DERRY City come to town tonight to take on the in-form Cork City.
Based on the performances and results of the previous week’s games in the premier division, there will only be one winner here and that is Cork City.
Right now they are playing some of the best football that any team in this club has ever played. And I mean since the club was formed in 1984.
Never before can I remember a Cork side that had so much quality and one that is playing so well.
Across all positions on the pitch, the players currently wearing the City jersey are excelling. Some more than others, but as a manager John Caulfield must be very excited about the year ahead.
Because of the squad he has assembled and because of their excellent start which sees them six points clear at the top, the league title is now theirs to lose. That may seem a very strong statement with so many games to go, but City are now where they want to be and they seem to be ready for the pressures that come with being on top of the league.
For the past three seasons in their hunt to catch Dundalk, City were always playing catch-up. Now the roles are reversed and it will be interesting to see how both teams react in this position.
Right now City are doing everything right and the cup win of last year seems to have lifted the club and the players to another level. They are playing right now like a team that finally believes they are the best in the league and it is showing on the pitch.
They are scoring goals for fun and another word on the magnificent Seanie Maguire. I read the national papers last week with interest and was smiling quietly to myself when I saw them all say Maguire deserves a call up to the senior team.
He does and it was something I said a few weeks before, especially for the Iceland game. And when I saw Kevin Doyle get a run, I was disgusted. Doyle, who I loved as an Irish player for years, has no business being in the Irish squad now.
He is 34, will not be part of the squad that travels to Russia next year for the World Cup if Ireland make it and he is playing for a poor team, in a poor league, that is probably the same standard as the premier league here in Ireland.
So if he can play against Iceland, why not Maguire, who is only 22? Look at the other strikers in the squad. Shane Long is 30, Daryl Murphy is 34, Jon Walters is 33. Are they the future? Are these guys going to be playing in two years time or even next year?
I don’t think so. And when you take their goalscoring form into consideration also, I think it was very foolish out of Martin O’Neill not to bring Maguire into the last squad for the Wales and Iceland games.
We have all seen how Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle have slotted so well into the squad, Maguire, with seven goals from seven games, could easily do the same.
Maguire has also scored goals at U21 international level for Ireland. If he maintains this form for the next few months he has to be part of the squad for the Austria and Uruguay games in Dublin.
I also believe Mark McNulty is more than capable of stepping up a level. He has been the best goalkeeper in the league for the past three years and again, in my opinion, he is a much better keeper than Dundalk’s who has been in the Irish squad over the past 12 months.
Although he didn’t have one of his more assured games against Limerick last week, he is still the best in the league and I’d expect him to be back to his best tonight for the visit of Derry City.
Until last weekend Derry were flying high. They looked as if they were going to mount a league title challenge and while last week’s shock defeat at home to Bray has set them back, they are still a side that will be pushing City all the way this year.
They love playing in the Cross and their record there in recent years is very impressive. They are one of only two sides, the other being Dundalk, that have won more than once there in the past three years under Caulfield and I’d expect a serious challenge from them tonight.
A quick word on the Ryan McBride tragedy. Derry have to be applauded for the way they handed the shock death of their captain and main man. There is a great link between both club’s, Cork and Derry and the hand of friendship goes back years between the two clubs and I have no doubt tonight will be handled by Cork and their fans with dignity and class.
Back to the game and a thought hit me when I was watching City tear Limerick apart last week. I remember thinking to myself Greg Bolger is going to find it hard to get back into this side.
And then I thought of Steven Beattie, John Dunleavy, Shane Griffin, John Kavanagh and Achille Campion who were either subs are not part of the match day 18 at all.
How does Caulfield accommodate these players? How does he leave any of the current starting XI out of the team based on results?
You might say he can’t, but he will have to at some point. He may even do so tonight. Would I prefer a midfield with Beattie and Bolger in it than without them in it? I would have them in my team, but that is why Caulfield is the boss.
He will get this call right. But of far more importance will be to get his players to perform for the full 90 minutes. When they switched off against Limerick last week, they could have conceded two or three goals.
Only bad misses and a lack of quality up front prevented Martin Russell’s men from scoring. There can be no lapses in concentration tonight or they will be punished.
I don’t think this will happen. City to win and Maguire to keep on scoring.