Five key fixtures for Cork City in 2018

Five key fixtures for Cork City in 2018
Cork City’s Karl Sheppard and Dylan Connelly of Dundalk. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

WITH the release of the 2018 fixtures earlier this week, Cork City now know who, where and when they will be playing in the new year.

The objective for the season will be to defend their double while also aiming to progress in the Champions League, another reward for what was a hugely successful year for the club.

City’s European venture will take place in July with the safety net of the Europa League should they be eliminated from Europe’s top club competition at the first time of asking. This means at least four continental clashes for the Leesiders next summer.

Cork City players celebrate the Kieran Sadlier kicking the winning penalty against Dundalk. Picture: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Cork City players celebrate the Kieran Sadlier kicking the winning penalty against Dundalk. Picture: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Before a ball is kicked, however, we’ve decided to take a look at which five clashes could be defining ones when it comes to City reclaiming their title or not.

5. Cork City v Waterford, February 23: We begin with City’s opening home game of the campaign, as new boys Waterford make the short journey west.

The south-east club, under a brand new ownership structure, laid down a marker last season in the way they dominated the First Division on their way to the one and only promotion spot on offer. The off-season transfers they’ve made are continuing that trend of statement-making, with some excellent acquisitions in the likes of Bastien Hery, Gavan Holohan, Izzy Akinade, David Webster and Niall Corbet — all players who could do a job.

In a partisan atmosphere at Turner’s Cross, City will need to come out of the blocks early in the season in front of what is likely to be a bumper crowd, which will feature a splattering of spectators who will want to see what all the fuss was about last season.

Keeping the momentum going from last term’s title win will be crucial in the Leesiders both attracting large crowds for the opening months of the season and keeping would-be challengers at bay for as long as possible. City’s start is what helped them have one hand on the title heading into the mid-season break in 2017. Doing so again will be necessary should they wish to defend their crown.

4. Dundalk v Cork City, March 9: As ever, the first league meeting of the season between these two will be an indicator of just who looks that bit marginally slicker. There’s no doubting the Leesiders have the upper hand in this long-running duel at this point, beating the Lilywhites in the President’s Cup, FAI Cup final (on penalties) as well as two out of three of their league games this year, drawing the final clash between the two.

While their squad has been boosted by the additions of former hero Pat Hoban as well as Dean Jarvis, Ronan Murray and Stephen Folan, there have been losses elsewhere with David McMillan having just departed for St Johnstone and Patrick McEleney moving on to Oldham Athletic.

This game will be a significant barometer of where these sides are at early on in the season, however.

3. Shamrock Rovers v Cork City, April 30: The Hoops threatened last season to hit a purple patch on occasion and really push Dundalk and City for the title. While this never materialised, a lot was learned by a talented group of players and a manager desperate to see success return to Tallaght.

Michael O'Connor of Shamrock Rovers celebrates against City at Tallaght. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Michael O'Connor of Shamrock Rovers celebrates against City at Tallaght. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Stephen Bradley’s men face City in Turner’s Cross before this clash, but if they happen to be in title contention then a win at home to the Leesiders could be a pivotal turning point in the the balance of power at the top.

May and June are usually the months where the league really beds down and the haves and have-nots are decided upon going into the second half of the season. Putting Rovers away here, should City be in a healthy position at, or near, the top, would go a long way to building momentum for the rest of the campaign.

2. Cork City v Derry City, July 20: The past two years City’s European exploits have been met with some sort of wobble from their usual standards in the immediate aftermath. In 2017, following their loss the AEK Larnaca, which was to be Sean Maguire’s final game for the club, Caulfield’s troops had an unconvincing win over Galway before falling to their first defeat of the campaign against Bohemians at home.

Defeat to Shamrock Rovers (in the EA Sports Cup) and Sligo at home in the following weeks compounded this poor run of form. Combating this mid-season slump may just be crucial in the Leesiders retaining their title.

Derry are penciled in to be the opposition once City emerge from the first round of European games. The Candystripes are arguably the worst side to face following a Champions League tie with their renowned spirit under Kenny Shiels making this game easy to predict even now as a grueling battle. If City come out the other side of this game with a win it would go a long way to having a successful ending to their 2018 campaign.

Shane Griffin of Cork City in action against Sean Gannon of Dundalk. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Shane Griffin of Cork City in action against Sean Gannon of Dundalk. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

1. Cork City v Dundalk, September 21: Judging from the last three years, the final league meeting between the pair could again define where the title ultimately goes.

In 2016 an October 11 loss at Oriel Park confirmed City’s fate and essentially handed the title to Dundalk while this year the meeting at the end of September was a matter of minutes from being the perfect way to win the title from City’s perspective.

It wasn’t to be that night, however the Leesiders’ draw was enough to kill any hope of Dundalk performing a miracle turnaround. The sense of disappointment that night wasn’t quickly shelved but the bigger picture was at that point a whole lot clearer. Should the status quo at the top of the table remain for a fifth year running this match will be one of the biggest of 2018.

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