Cork City’s best young players wired with club DNA due to strong academy structure

While Colin Healy will need new recruits for the club's return to the Premier Division, they have a host of gifted home-grown footballers
Cork City’s best young players wired with club DNA due to strong academy structure

Cian Murphy of Cork City in action against Paul Cleary of Wexford. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

CORK CITY are back in the top flight of Irish football after their First Division title success was won with a home-grown core brought up through the club’s academy.

That meant that youth propped the club up and ensured their promotion at the expense of teams with a far bigger budget.

The group includes club captain Cian Coleman, striker Cian Murphy, and goalkeeper David Harrington.

That’s just a sample of the names that brought joy back to the people of Cork after two years of misery.

This was a group that first cut their teeth in the tumultuous 2020 season, a year that ended in relegation and defeat to Rockmount in the final of the Munster Senior Cup.

It was their quest for a domestic trophy that saw this crop first make their name. A group containing Murphy, Harrington, and Cian Bargary all played against Mayfield United in the quarter-finals of the Munster Senior Cup, and they ground out a 2-1 win.

Little did anyone know on that bitterly cold night that seeds of future glory were being sown.

But to treat that night as the catalyst is not doing justice to the work done in the proceeding years in the City academy. It was there that the real story of this squad begins.

Even club captain Cian Coleman can be included in this conversation. The versatile midfielder who can sometimes play as a defender won a league and cup with the U19s under Stephen Bermingham.

He also represented the club in the Uefa Youth League and he helped City beat HJK Helsinki 1-0 on aggregate in the first round. That was a historic result also for Irish football as the club became the first Irish team to progress in the underage version of the Champions League.

Coleman left for pastures new and played for Cobh Ramblers, Limerick, and St Patrick’s Athletic before returning in 2020. The U19 team which made history on the continent also included a young Alec Byrne. The midfielder from Carrigaline joined in 2015 and he featured for both the U17s and U19s.

He started in the win over HJK Helsinki at Turner’s Cross and he made his senior debut against Limerick in the EA Sports Cup in 2017.


Byrne established himself as a first-team regular by starting 20 games in 2021, a run derailed by injury in 2022. He is just one player who did one of the hardest things in football, progressing from a club’s academy to the first team.

Murphy and Bargary, who started with St Michael’s AFC in Tipperary, featured on the U17 team that won their league title by beating Bohemians in a penalty shoot-out at Turner’s Cross in 2017. That was the first time that they lifted a trophy together and it was the perfect introduction to the club ethos.

Murphy made his senior debut 10 months later during a 5-1 win over Home Farm in the FAI Cup and he first appeared in the league that October during a stalemate with Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium.

Bargary followed in 2019 by featuring in a 4-1 win over Cobh Ramblers in the League of Ireland Cup and a month later he made his senior debut against UCD at the Belfield Bowl.

The pair rose to prominence during City’s time in the First Division, as they scored 25 league goals between them over the last two seasons.

Goalkeeper David Harrington was brought to Turner’s Cross from Cobh Ramblers in 2018 and he joined the club’s U19s. He featured intermittently until the tail end of the 2021 First Division season, a period which saw him slot easily in between the posts.

Harrington was at the centre of City’s early season burst of form when they lost just once between February and August, and this set them up for a comfortable title run-in.

David Harrington of Cork City is presented with his PFA Ireland First Division Team of the Year Medal by PFA Ireland chairperson Brendan Clarke. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
David Harrington of Cork City is presented with his PFA Ireland First Division Team of the Year Medal by PFA Ireland chairperson Brendan Clarke. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

His performances were noted with clubs from across the channel, including Everton, reported to be interested in signing the 22-year-old.

City’s backline also boasted Josh Honohan, a full-back and veteran of the club’s U17s and 19s. He started breaking through into the senior team in 2019 as he made three appearances with two coming from the bench. He returned to first-team action with six starts in 2021 and seven in 2022.

It was this collection of players that brought the buzz back to Turner’s Cross.


They are a group moulded in the club’s DNA and this was used to bring back the crowds and re-establish City as a team in the top flight of Irish football.

It also means that there is a clear pathway to professional football for young players across Cork and the south of Munster.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130


Read all about the monthly winner’s and more.
Click Here


Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more