The times are a changing on Leeside.
Following the AGM of Cork City FC recently, the Foras members voted unanimously in support of a change in ownership to Dermot Usher, which is a significant step for the club, after weeks of speculation.
Fans will be pleased the decision has been made in good time ahead of the new season, allowing an adjustment period for the new owner to set the club up how he wants for City’s first campaign in the top flight since 2020. It also allows time for the club to bolster the squad ahead of what will be a hugely challenging new season.
One of the main questions fans and board members will have is the degree of involvement Foras will have once the takeover is finalised.
As part of the takeover deal, it is reported that Foras will have a €1 buyback option to resume control debt-free if Usher decides to sell the club.
It is hoped that Foras will maintain some degree of involvement in the club which, one could argue, is nothing more than it deserves, having guided the club through some of its most turbulent times.
There is an expectation that Foras will meet with the new owner on a regular basis, ensuring there is still some degree of fan input in the long-term direction of the club.
The fan-run organisation has been key in the successful operation of the club from the brink of receivership in 2009, to the heights of being double champions in 2017. The only blip on the record was perhaps the drawn-out Grovemoor saga.
However, the money from Grovemoor helped keep the club afloat, so any criticism should factor in that context.
Usher has disclosed that his move to assume control of Cork City FC, at least for now, is a five-year project.
What success looks like in that time frame remains to be seen. One would imagine silverware is on the agenda, considering the new owner has earmarked European football as a lofty goal over the next few years, but admittedly not right away.
The League of Ireland Premier Division is a different league to the one Cork City was relegated from back in 2020.
The quality has continued to improve, while physicality is now also more of a factor. Fans on Leeside will have noticed the difference in both while watching First Division matches over the course of the last two seasons, and thus recognise the challenge at hand.
Not to mention the notoriously high standards of Cork City fans, who might be content to be at the middle of the pack for the first season, but will have their sights set much higher up the table for the following seasons.
The gap between the groups of teams in the top flight is becoming more and more pronounced. League winners Shamrock Rovers finished on 79 points this year, with both Derry and Dundalk finishing 13 points back.
St Pat’s kept somewhat in touch with the runners-up, trailing by just five points, but the next group of four clubs is a further 12 points back.
UCD, who won the relegation play-off against First Division runners-up Waterford, finished a whole 12 points behind third from bottom Drogheda. There are clear gaps between the top four teams, the middle four teams, and then the bottom two, with Shamrock Rovers possibly even being in their own bracket at the top.
The question is, which bracket Cork City will fall into?
Realistically, survival is the ultimate goal for the upcoming campaign, with anything more being a bonus.
That fateful 2020 season shows what can happen when the club doesn’t have enough money to invest heavily in new signings, and instead must rely on young players who are thrown in at the deep end.
It was this baptism of fire that unfortunately saw the club relegated to the second tier.
It would appear that Declan Carey and the rest of the Foras members looked for outside investment in order to avoid a repeat of this, recognising that the depth of the Premier Division now requires a different level of financial backing.
Both they and all the supporters on Leeside will be hoping that Dermot Usher is the man to do just that.