THE President’s Cup has been good to Cork City in their recent battles against Dundalk.
It’s now three years in a row now that the Rebel Army have won the season-opening prize against the Lilywhites, including last Sunday afternoon’s enthralling comeback at Oriel Park.
It’s a competition which has often framed the opening part of the season, City’s first win in 2016 helped them get over the mental block of Dundalk the season previous, while last year it proved the first crucial step of what would be a memorable season.
Both managers played down the competition’s importance in the build-up to the game, and questions remain over the relevance of the game when neither side want to show their full hand, but tell that to any of the players in the thick of the snowfall on Sunday.
So what can we take from the game heading into this season?
It’s been a difficult week for the football club, the passing of former player Liam Miller loomed heavy in the air over Oriel Park last weekend, along with the absence of goalkeeper Mark McNulty, a lifelong friend who was at the removal back on Leeside.
Conor McCormack was one of many of those who knew Miller personally, and the Carlingford native endured a chorus of boos himself in Louth for his comments last week about being captain of ‘the biggest club in the country’.
Heavy snow, a long drive, and a freezing day near the border, it would have been so easy for the Leesiders to give up after conceding two cheap goals, before half-time.
But John Caulfield’s men are made of sterner stuff, and this team’s resolve has not been lost on the new arrivals, and once Karl Sheppard’s goal went in after the half, you always backed City to get another.
Maybe not another three however, and from coasting, Dundalk were completely out-of-sorts in the second-half, which could very well affect the Lilywhites going into this weekend’s season opener against Bray.
For City meanwhile, even if manager John Caulfield did believe in his own words, calling the game another pre-season friendly, there’s no doubting that his own side laid down a marker last Sunday.
In the build-up to last week’s game, Cork City’s pre-season had been pretty rubbish. A scrappy friendly played on a diabolical pitch in Cobh, a fairly awful 1-1 draw against UCC, a comfortable run-out against Finn Harps in Abbotstown, and a non-contest against Waterford FC on a rubber surface in Blarney United, which saw Garry Buckley pick up an injury that rules him out of the start of the season.
City’s trip to Manchester seemed to be pretty positive and the training facilities, nestled alongside the Etihad Arena, looked in fine nick as the players got last week’s first experience of the snow across the Irish Sea.
Perhaps it was that lack of match sharpness that saw the Rebel Army so outfought in the second-half, particularly with new signings struggling to get up to the pace of the game, but John Caulfield’s man-motivation is revered around these parts in the Munster Senior League, and the Leesiders were a different animal in the second-half.
That will certainly be enough to catapult the reigning double champions into the opener at Inchicore against St Patrick’s Athletic, when those early friendlies drift quickly from memory.
City’s front three of Sheppard, Sadlier, and Cummins all got on the scoreboard, with Sadlier’s long-range effort a particular pearl of a strike, warming the insides of supporters freezing on the concrete steps.
Sadlier’s physicality has come on massively in the off-season, and it’s clear that the former West Ham man has had a focused winter, ready to hit the ground running, and that has shown excellent form in this pre-season period.
Cummins scored a double in the Munster Senior Cup semi-final win, and for him to score in his first meeting with Stephen Kenny’s side bodes very well for the future.
McNamee also netted late on, and to see those four geling, so early, at Oriel Park, is a massive omen for City and indeed the rest of the league, four goals at the home of the Lilywhites is a fierce achievement in itself, despite Kenny’s post-match laments of the flu, and further proves the Leesiders as the most intimidating team in 2018.
Not that this is new information to any of those who follow the League of Ireland, but a testing near-500 mile round trip in the snow and rain wasn’t enough to deter those City fans, who again travelled to Dundalk, despite the ‘friendly’ billing.
Mind you, it was the only way they were going to see their side on Sunday.
Not a single television or major radio station covered the game, and due to the shocking quality of the wifi at Oriel Park, the game wasn’t even streamed online by the national association, no investment required say new owners Peak6.
Those City fans stood out in the snow and concrete blocks and along with their Dundalk counterparts gave a rapturous applause to the memory of Liam Miller, pure class.
This team’s resolve has not been lost on the new arrivals
More in this section