by Ger McCarthy
All is not lost
John Caulfield’s face said it all as Robbie Benson wheeled away in delight after levelling the score at a stunned Turner’s Cross. City had overcome a disappointing start only to grab a fortuitous goal and dominate the game before conceding a late equaliser.
One hand on the trophy, Cork’s recent poor run of form came back to haunt them but Caulfield’s side remain in pole position and should wrap up the title in the coming weeks.
Permutations are clear
Dundalk’s last-gasp equaliser means the gap to league leaders Cork remains unchanged with four rounds of fixtures to go. Even if they finish second, Stephen Kenny and his players deserve credit for capitalising on a spluttering City run-in and whittling down what was once an 18-point gap to the leaders.
The permutations are clear for John Caulfield’s side that require two points from their remaining quartet of games against Derry City (H), Bohemians (A), St. Patrick’s Athletic (H) and Bray Wanderers to become champions.
McCormack was superb
On paper, a single goal from his 25 first team appearances might not appear an impressive statistic for a midfielder of Conor McCormack’s calibre. Yet, the 27-year-old’s role in City’s title challenge was never primarily about scoring goals but rather stopping the opposition from finding the net.
McCormack was outstanding in that very role against Dundalk at Turner’s Cross. Protecting his back four, prompting attacks by feeding Jimmy Keohane and Gearoid Morrissey as well as squeezing the space around Dundalk’s playmakers, the former Derry City and Shamrock Rovers player was superb. Conor McCormack was a worthy man of the match winner.
Defence was vital until late equaliser
Having played second fiddle to Dundalk for much of the opening 20 minutes, Cork City demonstrated some of the defensive resolve that delivered a 22-match unbeaten run earlier in the campaign.
Steven Beattie, Ryan Delaney, Alan Bennett and Shane Griffin maintained their shape and composure during a nervy spell. Goalkeeper Mark McNulty proved a steadying influence whenever the visitors did manage to breach Cork’s back four and ensured a dominant Dundalk did not make the breakthrough.
Yet, when it mattered most, the best defence in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division were guilty of falling asleep and conceding a late equaliser that denied City the title on their home ground.
The double is still on
A third league championship title is still a realistic target but John Caulfield and his backroom team must now turn their attention to Friday night’s FAI Cup semi-final with Limerick.
Though he will talk it down, the prospect of winning a league and cup double (and quite possibly at Dundalk’s expense in the cup decider) is something the Cork City manager will be desperate to achieve.
Last year’s FAI Cup final proved a turning point in City’s history as Sean Maguire’s late winner delivered a first psychological blow to their arch rivals. A second cup final victory over Dundalk would cement City’s status as the best team in the country.
'It's still in our control' - Cork City manager John Caulfield pic.twitter.com/qi0DNo19GC— Soccer Republic (@SoccRepublic) September 25, 2017
John Caulfield reminded supporters that the destination of the SSE Airtrcity League of Ireland Premier Division title remains in Cork City’s hands despite tonight’s 1-1 draw with Dundalk.
“We are very disappointed because during the course of the game, Dundalk didn’t really have many chances,” commented a downbeat John Caulfield to RTE’s Tony O’Donoghue.
“We are very disappointed at conceding that late goal because we were outstanding in the first half. We created some great chances and Gary Rogers made a fantastic save when we were 1-0 up.
"At the end of the day, the league goes to the last game of the season and we have four games to go. We need two points to win the league, so after losing the last two games there was a bit of doom and gloom.
“Tonight, our supporters were fantastic and at the same time, Dundalk threw everything at us in the second half but everything is still under our control.”
“It was a wonderful turnout by the Cork people and we played some good football before getting caught at the end,” said Cork City captain Alan Bennett.
“We are one step closer and that is where we want to be. It is hard to say (if confidence drained over the past couple of weeks), obviously Dundalk are champions and we are trying to take their title away from them. They were going to give it up easy.
“We had to re-jig our team and we played some great stuff but probably didn’t get the rub of the green in the end. We have a cup semi-final next week against Limerick and will be looking to get back to the Aviva. There are four games left and we have loads to chances to come.”