The big interview: John Caulfield on Cork City's epic season, learning from his mistakes and why he feels man-management is the key to success

The big interview: John Caulfield on Cork City's epic season, learning from his mistakes and why he feels man-management is the key to success
Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

EVEN aside from the looming FAI Cup final against Dundalk and a shot at a historic first double for Cork City, life couldn’t be busier for John Caulfield.

The club legend should be soaking up the plaudits of bridging a 12-year gap to City’s last league in 2005 but it doesn’t go like that.

The day before we meet he had been in Bishopstown at 7am to prepare for training, headed up the country after to meet potential new recruits for 2018, swung into the RTÉ studios to appear on Soccer Republic and arrived back at home in West Cork at 3.30am. He was still out of the leaba at 6am to start the process again, his Tuesday complete after appearing at a function.

He’s not looking for any sympathy because he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s in demand because as his fourth campaign winds down, with a new two-year deal signed, he’s on top of the world.

“When you win a county in GAA you can park it up to a degree and not worry until February the following and you start again.

“In professional sport it’s more complicated. There’s a transfer market and because of shorter contracts in the League of Ireland the most hectic time is two to three weeks after the season. That’s probably the most stressful time. What if you lose a few quality players.

“The stronger you get as a club gives you more options. It’s still a struggle but if you’re not competing, stuck in mid-table, by God it’s a nightmare.

“The training of the team is the easiest part of it, but it’s so minute in the managing of the club. Supporters will focus on the first team games but the whole underage comes under the umbrella of the football club. It can be a bit of a revolving door. The day you think everything is perfect then the door smacks you in the face.” 

High-profile players like Conor McCormack and Gearóid Morrissey have recently signed on for two more seasons, but Karl Sheppard, Stephen Beattie and Greg Bolger are being tipped to move from Turner’s Cross. This despite the club’s incredible run in the first two-thirds of the league and reaching a third successive cup final.

With Seanie Maguire and Kevin O’Connor now in Preston it heaps the pressure on Caulfield and his backroom, who will have Paul Wycherley in as the new club general manager shortly. It comes with the territory according to Caulfield, who lost the promising Chiedozie Ogbene to Limerick last winter, while Kenny Browne defected to Waterford.

Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

“The Chiedoze thing pissed me off because the young fella was naive and giddy. We brought him through and when he left he never told us until he had signed. There was no comeback.

“The day before the Presidents Cup I’d a headache. Pre-season had gone so well, we were in a great place but Kenny Browne was in the back of my mind. I’d given him opportunities to leave and then the day before the game with Dundalk he came in and told me he was off.” 

Revealing that bit of info to the members of FORAS who run the club at the AGM raised a few eyebrows, though Browne’s loss was soon offset by securing Ryan Delaney on loan from Burton Albion. There was a frenzy this week up in Dundalk about a viral video of City keeper Mark McNulty slagging off the former champions, but then everything is magnified in the modern era compared to Caulfield’s hey-day as a player.

“You have far more people with opinions. They might not even go to games but they’re following the club in the papers or online and they’d be quick to tell you ‘you messed up there’.

“You go back 30 years ago and all anyone expected to read was about the match. Now that can be immaterial in a way. It’s all about getting a story someone else has, finding an angle. And then you’ve the extra coverage across all the new media.

“Now it’s the Fantasy Football manager. They think ‘I’m brilliant at this game’ so they know everything about tactics and formations.

“Every kid coming up through the system is used to 4-4-2. It’s like GAA, it’s 6-2-6 for the most part and suddenly you’re landed with 13 behind the ball, one up front and guys are turning around wondering ‘how the hell do I play this’.” 

Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

How does he get away from it all? A few quiet pints in his local in Enniskeane help. As does the support of his wife and two daughters. Even the odd show on Netflix.

“The night before Dundalk in the league recently I was watching Narcos on Netflix, about four episodes. I realised after about three hours I hadn’t thought about the game. I should do more of it but sure I might watch something and then I wouldn’t see it again for a week. If it’s TV I end up watching sport really.” 

Whether it’s rugby, American football or GAA that’s on the box, Caulfield invariably looks at the sideline to see how the man or woman in charge operates. 

"You’re looking at all their traits, how they handle certain situations. You look at Jim Gavin. We say ‘how can you stand there, arms folded, the stakes at their highest, and win All-Irelands?’ But that’s him. It’s his personality. You’ve the opposite then in someone like Davy Fitz.

“I’d always be interested in Conte at Chelsea. Simeone with Atletic Madrid. Even if it’s rugby I’m watching, the body language and how the message is communicated is what interests me. How can you get what you want to say across to a group?

“Wenger is really good, but to be fair any manager at that level is.

“I’ve gone to League 1 and League 2 clubs and shadowed managers for a few days. It’s often the mistakes he makes you’d learn more from... ‘I wouldn’t say it that way’. When you look back on your career and the managers you’ve dealt with you’ll often think more about the mistakes. That’s human nature.” 

Caulfield with Shane Griffin and Steven Beattie. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Caulfield with Shane Griffin and Steven Beattie. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Even going back to when he was involved with Avondale and UCC in the Munster Senior League, Caulfield would have argued man-management rather than pure coaching is the essential aspect of the role.

“I’d still look back at times with Avondale and think ‘Jesus how did I do that’. You’re rash when you’re young, you want to go through the door and sort everything. Now you might decide to leave it off. You need to pick up on any issues fellas have. 

"Sometimes you might even spot it before training and you can pull them to one side. Dealing with guys who are dropped, taken off, or those on the bench a lot... how do you keep them motivated? That’s the challenge with a squad. You need to keep their feet on the ground too.” 

That wasn't a concern with Seanie Maguire, even though the spearhead of City's title drive until his move to England was on the brink of quitting the game when he was taken on by Caulfield.

“A lot of young fellas don’t make it in England and they’re gone. Others have talent and they can get back on track, stop drifting away and turn it around. When I met him he was in the middle.

“When I spoke to him he was a really nice fella. I said ‘you haven’t kicked a ball in two years’. He explained what happened but he didn’t blame anyone. He wanted to train hard and find his way again. That’s why I give him all the credit. He might have talked about what I’ve done for him but he did it all. He had to. I told him if he didn’t have the attitude he wouldn’t succeed.” 

Caulfield shakes hands with Maguire after his last league game. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile
Caulfield shakes hands with Maguire after his last league game. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile

From the off in the 2016 campaign that culminated in Maguire’s winner in the FAI Cup final, Maguire set the tone.

“In the first week at training, I saw he was a good player and then he started the President’s Cup final and scored twice and it took off from there. Not that there weren’t rocky patches.

“I remember we took him out against Sligo (in 2016) and he wasn’t happy. He’d gone through a spell of four games without scoring and he was trying too hard. Making stupid runs and totally forcing it.

“He’d about 10 league goals at the time and I just explained to him that the pressure would come off once he was out of the team. I remember the Monday after at training he admitted he didn’t realise all the pressure that was on him until he was sitting back on the bench watching it and feeling the relief.

“I’d him straight back in the team the following weekend and went on a scoring run again. He was viewing it as ‘being dropped’ but it wasn’t that. 

“You’re watching guys every day and you can see when they’re struggling. Now for some that might be the exact time to leave them in, because you don’t want to shatter their confidence. It depends on personalities but also your gut feeling.”

Maguire’s switch to the Championship and a patchy few months for City have been a small bit tricky. But Caulfield is hoping, even as the squad evolves into next year, they’ve at least learned the art of winning now. He saw its importance in the All-Ireland final.

“Every time Dublin had put the ball wide or over the bar it was quick kick-outs with Mayo, ball down, bang. Then in the last few minutes they left all that go. The keeper was suddenly slower. They stopped doing what had worked. Dublin were the opposite, it was like as if they knew they were going to win the game by a point or two. That’s experience, being used to winning.

“It was becoming a bit of a monkey on the backs at City because everyone was telling us we were always second. Now a lot of the lads were new last year, but that’s where winning the cup final was important. It meant our mindset had changed coming into this season. We had shown we were up there with Dundalk, ready to take them out.”

Cork City manager John Caulfield after the league title was secured. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Cork City manager John Caulfield after the league title was secured. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

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