Cork City learning from their past ahead of Premier Division return 

Season begins on February 17 with a Premier Division clash at the Cross against Bohs
Cork City learning from their past ahead of Premier Division return 

Fireworks after Cork City's league title win last October. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

AFTER winning the First Division and promotion back to the top tier of Irish football, Cork City will soon return to pre-season action as they get ready to entertain Bohemians at Turner’s Cross on February 17.

There won’t be too many surprises on opening night as Colin Healy has chosen consistency when building his squad for 2023. This follows a winter of change at the club as Foras recently voted in favour of a takeover by Kildare-based businessman Dermot Usher.

While that conversation dominates Cork football from a macroeconomic point of view, Healy has brought back the core group that delivered the First Division title last October.

Cork City manager Colin Healy. Picture: Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile
Cork City manager Colin Healy. Picture: Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

This was a vision he began working towards almost immediately as he tied down club captain Cian Colman to a new contract last November.

This set the tone for the offseason as the midfielder was followed by the re-signing of striker Cian Murphy, who scored 18 league goals for the club over the last two seasons, and midfielder Barry Coffey.

The most impressive re-signing during this period was midfielder Aaron Bolger, who was heavily linked with a move to Damien Duff’s Shelbourne. Healy then concentrated on the defence by tying down Ally Gilchrist and Gordon Walker to new contracts. The majority of these deals were completed over a six-day window at the end of November, just as some teams were settling down to plan things out for the new season.

Cork City FC celebrated their league win at SoHo: Jimmy Corcoran, James Doona, Louis Britton, Aaron Bolger and Dylan McGlade Photo: Colm Lougheed
Cork City FC celebrated their league win at SoHo: Jimmy Corcoran, James Doona, Louis Britton, Aaron Bolger and Dylan McGlade Photo: Colm Lougheed

One player they will be without is goalkeeper David Harrington, who joined Fleetwood Town. The shot-stopper started 23 times for the club last season and his deputy, Jimmy Corcoran, is expected to start in 2023 after signing a deal at City.

Healy has not been afraid to look around the league for outside talent as he signed Ethon Varian on loan from Bohemians and Tunde Owolabi from St Patrick’s Athletic. They are expected to slot into a settled unit that scored 63 goals and conceded just 22 times in 32 games.

Cork City FC are delighted to announce the signing of Ethon Varian on loan from Bohemians.
Cork City FC are delighted to announce the signing of Ethon Varian on loan from Bohemians.

This approach previously worked for the club back in 2011/12, when they last won promotion to the Premier Division.

The Rebel Army prepared for the new season by bringing back the same group who won the First Division title by beating Shelbourne 2-1 at Tolka Park in October 2011. The only loss they suffered that offseason was Graham Cummins, who signed for Preston North End after scoring 24 goals in 30 league appearances.

The rest of the team, including five from the squad to beat Shelbourne, started the opening game of the 2012 season against UCD. That group was also missing Neal Horgan, Davin O’Neil, and Tadhg Purcell through injury and Daryl Horgan was also out of action in Dublin.

That City team was managed by Tommy Dunne, who took over the club in 2010 after they were demoted to the First Division. He assembled the squad that won promotion and brought back a number of club legends for 2012 including Danny Murphy and Colin Healy.

This added experience to the squad as they prepared for life back in the top flight, something the current management team has replicated by bringing in Varian and Owolabi.

WEAKNESS

This time City are strengthening the club’s biggest weakness from the last time they played Premier Division football.

That Achilles’ heel was scoring goals as they only found the net 39 times in 54 games between 2019 and 2020.

Managers John Caulfield and Neal Fenn tried to fix this by experimenting with different strikers, and none of these worked out. Those systems featured a rotating group of forwards such as Cummins, Karl Shepherd, Liam Nash, Darragh Rainsford, Conor Simpson, Deshane Dalling, and Reyon Dillon. Nothing clicked and City were relegated in 2020 with just 11 points picked up from 18 games.

The solution to the problem was found in the club’s academy as Murphy stepped up and in 2022 Keating was brought in to assist the young striker. Coffey also contributed 14 goals and three assists, which helped to create a fluid attack.

City are going back to what worked in the past while being mindful of their previous issues. The last time in this position, they stayed up with a 16-point cushion between them and Dundalk.

As safety will be the bottom line for a newly promoted club, City will want a formula with a proven track record. The club are drawing from their own experiences to achieve that.

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