AT the beginning of the season, promotion was more of hope rather than expectance but recent results have risen expectations at Cork City.
These players have gone from a side that lacked confidence and belief in themselves and couldn’t compete with the better sides in the First Division, to a team capable of taking on one of the best teams in the country - St Patrick’s Athletic - to a penalty shootout.
A few months back, the thought of City competing against any of the top Premier Division team was unthinkable, but Colin Healy’s side have shown against Pat’s and Sligo Rovers, that these players have grown and developed and should be ready for a promotion challenge next season.
Does that mean I think this squad will be promoted next season?
Probably not without the addition of two or three signings. City’s recruitment process will have started and Healy will have identified potential targets for next season.
City’s recent improvement would have made Healy’s job of convincing players to join the club a little bit easier.
Throughout the season, City have languished towards the bottom of the table and did not show signs of making any process.
Players from outside – players that don’t play with City – would have looked at City and assumed that it was a club that were struggling and that there was little hope of them ever getting out of the division.
Now, when Healy talks to potential signings about the squad being good enough for promotion; they will believe him because of recent results.
Also, if City were to go into the loan market again next season – which I’m sure they will – it makes it a lot easier to convince clubs to let their players go on loan to a club that has shown they will be ready for a promotion push rather than a club that showed little promise the previous campaign.
So, what has been the difference between City now and the team that struggled at the beginning of the campaign?
The most noticeable difference has to be in attack, where City look a threat every time going forward. In early games; they were pedestrian in attack. It seemed to take them a long time to get into the opposition box because they keep passing the ball laterally and backwards.
There was no purpose to their attack and opposition teams found it easy to setup against Healy’s side. However, now, there is a clear game plan to City’s play in possession. They try and get the ball to players like Dylan McGlade and Cian Murphy as quickly as they can.
There are a lot of quick players in City team and teams struggle to deal with that pace when City do work that to their advantage.
With City being one of three full-time teams in the division, we are starting to see the benefits of this in terms of their fitness in the latter part of the season. While most teams look tired and fatigued from the long season, the City players are thriving.
Two results that will haunt City and have cost them a chance of reaching the play-offs will be the two, 2-2 draws with Bray Wanderers and Cabinteely. In both games, City were leading by two goals in the final 10 minutes but somehow managed to throw the lead away. City missed a host of chances against Bray and should have learned their lessons from that game against Cabinteely.
Yes, the first goal for Pat Devlin’s side that night should never have stood but City should have been better at seeing out the lead. There seemed to be a lack of experience or leadership in Dublin that night and recruiting experience players, who won’t panic in those situations, should prevent such comebacks from happening again.
Over the next few weeks, we should see more players sign new contracts with the club but after the season he has had, the fact the Cian Coleman will remain a City player next season; is a huge boost for the club.
Coleman has been my player of the year for the club, and must continue to play centre-back - even though he is a midfielder by trade - such has been his impressive displays there.