CORK City skipper Alan Bennett will wear the skipper's armband if he shakes off an ankle ligament strain ahead of Thursday’s Europa League first-leg clash, away to Estonia’s Levadia Tallinn.
The 21-man City squad that included youth stars Alec Byrne and Conor McCarthy, who has just finished his Leaving Certificate, jetted out to the Estonian capital early this morning without the services of injured club captain Johnny Dunleavy.
Manager John Caulfield in his ninth European game having played himself in 22 Euro ties faced a seven-hour journey to the coastal resort of Parnu – two hours from Tallinn – where Thursday’s clash has a 4.30pm Irish time kick-off.
The return leg is back at Turner’s Cross on Thursday week and if the FAI and Munster Cup holders and runaway league leaders progress in the competition they will be away to either AEK Larnaca of Cyprus or Gibralter’s Lincoln Red Imps in the second qualifying round.
“It’s important that we keep the tie alive for the return leg in Cork and ideally it would be great if we could score an away goal. The away goal is vital in the overall context of the tie and we know that to our cost after last year’s third round exit to Genk in Belgium,” said Caulfield before the team’s charter flight departure from Cork Airport.
“We are in great form, our confidence is high and we are all looking forward to it. Europe is different to the domestic games but we have done our homework on the opposition. They have a similar league record to ourselves in that they are unbeaten in 17 matches and trail FC Flora at the top of the Estonian national league.
They are a big, strong side and a danger up front. They have four internationals involved, two seniors and two U21s and they tend to play a 4-2-3-1 system like ourselves.
They have two very direct wingers, two defensive midfielders and a very good No.10 and a big man up top. They play at a high intensity and they have a good blend of youth and experience.
I’d rate them on a par with a top League of Ireland side from the videos we have seen of them.
Lisa Fallon, our opposition analyst, went over to see them in action as well, and a few years back, they knocked Slavia Prague out of Europe so they have a bit of a track record,” he added.
Cork will train for an hour at the match venue, the 1,500 capacity Parnu Rannastaadion, at match time tomorrow evening and the fervent hope is that both Alan Bennett and Steven Beattie (ankle) will both come through late fitness checks.
Meanwhile, City have just announced the signing of Sean McLoughlin from UCC.
The defender, who previously played with the club at underage level, joins after a successful spell with UCC and Collingwood Cup football.
"I am obviously delighted to be here. It will be a step up coming from UCC, but I am looking forward to the challenge. City have been excellent this year, and hopefully I can fit in well.
"It will take a lot of hard work but I am looking forward to it.” “Training has been good; it’s been tough and I need to get up to the pace, but that will come. I need to put in the hard work and get as many games as I can.”
City boss John Caulfield welcomed the signing, saying: “We have been monitoring Sean for a while and we are delighted to get him, because he had an offer from an SPL club and a League One club as well. After speaking to him over the last few weeks and having had him in training, he has signed for a year and a half.” “He can play left back or left centre back and he is very good on the ball.
"He is a guy who has come through UCC, who have done very well over the last few years. It is a big step up but he has done well in training. He is getting used to it and we see him as player who can step up to the mark very quickly, so we have high hopes for him.”