AS the goals rained in last Friday night at Turner’s Cross it was genuinely difficult to think of a time when anything in the club seemed so sure and secure and inevitable as more goals, more performances, more wins.
That feeling of momentum building has been there since the very first minute of the season (or the very last minute of last season if we’re being correct – that FAI Cup winner) and has been there in the background of every game since, that awareness of something developing that won’t be stopped.
Cork City fans and players seemed doubtful about their ability to really compete with Dundalk in previous years.
That’s gone now and if you can’t be certain on what exactly sparked the change, there’s been an unmistakeable shift in energy and mood from question marks about taking the next step to a team that’s totally bought into making that move.
A quick peek at the archives revealed it’s only eight years ago this week that the difficulties affecting the club became so obvious and inevitable in an altogether different way – newspaper reports from May 2009 talk of a revenue wind-up on the cards – and anybody who’s read through Neal Horgan’s incredibly honest record of that season will recall in the main a general sense of nobody knowing anything, of a club fumbling along without a proper plan or structure and that walked straight into disaster after a period of non-management.
If there was the short-term pain that followed, not much has been called wrong on the decision making this past few years.
It’s impossible to imagine anybody more suited to finding Cork City on the field again than John Caulfield, that epic feeling of conviction more than anything else that has transmitted itself into a group of footballers who now can’t appear to do anything but win.
Caulfield had pockets of players with him since he took over but has control now of a full team that will bend to his will and it’s been damn impressive how both the collective belief of the team can force itself on the opposition and how individuals have developed into serious performers, lots of times from positions where this level wasn’t exactly foreseen.
There’s a taking-care-of-business vibe to any game in Turner’s Cross now especially.
Even in the Dundalk game earlier in the season, it wasn’t that Cork ran them off the field or bullied them or passed them to death, but Cork just seemed more in control, more aware of their jobs, more focused.
They didn’t chase the game and seemed pretty comfortable with the notion that the goals would present themselves if they just had the right mindset.
If the Arsenal invincibles are being referenced – and yes, it really is far too early for that sort of thing – then the group seem more like Chelsea 2004/05, that first year of Jose Mourinho where the manager had the power to convince the players that everything he asked was going to work and the players had the mindset of believing in him and themselves completely.
Take Seánie Maguire (as somebody in England surely will in the next six months), who came to Cork as a half-winger after a few years of doing little enough of substance with various clubs.
Caulfield insisted he was a striker and would score goals.
Maguire became a striker who scores goals, lots and lots of very good striker-type goals.
That run of goals at the end of last season might have been considered an unrepeatable binge; then he went and got even better, worked on making himself faster and stronger, has scored eleven league goals already and assisted others in big games.
Again, there’s something just strikingly convincing about everything he does.
The goals tend to be one-touch, decisive cleanly-struck finishes that are clearly going to be goals before Maguire even hits the ball.
The way he perfectly found the exact space inside the penalty area with a pile of bodies in the opening game up in Finn Harps and tucked it away first –time.
The one-v-one tuck away v Sligo.
The one-v-one hit to the corner v Limerick.
Did anyone really believe he wasn’t going to lob that ball over the keeper and into the net last Friday?
Our own favourite goal so far is probably the one at home to Derry City, where the ball pinged around just outside the Derry penalty area for an age and still there was this feeling the ball would eventually drop to Maguire and he’d nose out a goal.
It did, Maguire took the ball on the turn to open a one-v-one and just expertly banged the ball into the far corner of the net – again it’s impossible to locate any doubt or idea that Maguire might somehow miss the chance.
In the big game against Dundalk, Maguire didn’t score but was a game-changer anyway.
Again when the ball was slipped to him in space down the left wing a goal chance seemed to become the only or obvious outcome.
A few seconds later his pace had meant nobody could catch him and he slid the ball across for Karl Sheppard to score.
Sheppard is another who’s revived himself in Cork, the two-goal match-winners in that Dundalk game, the wonderful volley up in Bohs, goals and influence that seemed in the past not that long ago.
Conor McCormack has become a real force in midfield.
More or less everyone that’s come in has fitted into their role and the system with minimum fuss.
Most players are playing as well as they ever have.
The manager won’t be for switching off.
The long haul of summer and Europa league qualifiers will most likely bring the biggest challenges, as well as hanging onto Maguire and Ryan Delaney for as long as possible.
Right now it’s tough to see anything getting in the way of the most purposeful Cork City side we’ve seen in an age.