FORMER Cork City manager Damien Richardson used to say that when it came to European football his team needed four key elements – speed of thought, decision making, concentration and patience – and that’s exactly what John Caulfield will need from his players at Turner’s Cross tonight (7.45pm).
City and Caulfield’s new breed take on the powerful Cypriot side, AEK Larnaca in their Europa League second round, first leg tie with the return leg to come at the brand new AEK Arena in Cyprus on this night week.
“Larnaca have a big Spanish influence and a Spanish manager and they will be patient tonight and try to lure us out of position and hit us on the break. They have some seriously good players and they are very good on the ball and that’s the challenge that faces us.
“I think the experience of last year’s European games will stand to us and the fact that we go into action with a 25-match unbeaten record behind us is a big help. It strikes me that Cork with a relatively young team are up against some experienced Spanish players in their 30’s but being the unseeded team again, we are the underdogs,” said Caulfield as he assessed the opposition.
AEK are ranked 208th in the UEFA club listings while Cork are back in 335th berth but given that Dundalk (195) and Aberdeen (191) are ahead of AEK on the club coefficients doesn’t bother Caulfield at all.
“This is where we want to be and we want to be playing in these big European games and with that electric atmosphere at Turner’s Cross on home nights and these are the memories that will live with the supporters for life.
"We need the crowd as our 12th man again and we need to play well to have any chance. We feel we can cause them a few problems but we’d be totally naive not to be wary of them at the same time.
"We were 2-1 down at half-time and a goal away from being knocked out of the competition against Levadia Tallinn but we survived and we go again tonight looking to win and take an advantage back to Cyprus. It will be another tight game and we know we will have to dig in to get a result,” added Caulfield who has a full-strength squad bar the injured Johnny Dunleavy.
Dunleavy is the exception as Caulfield declared Alan Bennett and John Kavanagh fit and ready to go tonight.
AEK are out of season since May 20 but they were back by mid-June and they played a few challenge games against the other Cypriot teams in Europe and they overcame the Lincoln Red Imps from Gibraltar in the previous round on a 6-1 on aggregate.
“What we have seen and watched of AEK so far is that they are very much a possession-orientated team, they keep the ball incredibly well, they move it all over the pitch and try to force you into mistakes and then capitalise on them. They are a quality side and they feel they can get to the group stages.
"Having said that, we have done incredibly well ourselves and I’d be disappointed if we don’t give them a test and have a serious go at them. AEK have the older team with lads in their 30’s and we won’t go into it to sit back and soak up pressure. We feel we can possibly take them at home but we will need to be switched on for the entire 90 minutes to do it,” added Caulfield at his pre-match press briefing.
“We are not seeded but Irish club have done well in Europe and made progress in recent years and that gives you something positive to cling on to on nights like these. I wouldn’t read too much into the fact that they are 100 places better off than us in the UEFA club ranking list,” he said.
It will be an emotional night for Seanie Maguire and Kevin O’Connor making their last home appearances for the club before they join Championship side, Preston North End and swap the Cross for Deepdale.
They will play in Sunday’s league game away to Bray at the Carlisle Grounds and their very last appearance in the Cork City colours will come on this night week in the return leg in the AEK Arena in Larnaca.