By Liam Mackey and Denis Hurley
Massive pride and acute disappointment: John Caulfield’s mixed emotions reflected the rollercoaster nature of a night at Turner’s Cross which had promised so much but ultimately ended in frustration for the manager and his Cork City team.
“It was a disappointment because we gave away a soft goal late on, their only chance of the game really, but it was an absolutely phenomenal performance by the team,” he said. “At half-time we were disappointed with the scoreline. Gary Rogers had made a fantastic save and Jimmy Keohane had an excellent chance but overall we played really, really well. Our pace and movement was fantastic.
“The bottom line is last Friday we needed five points to win the league. Now we need two. Everything is within our control. The most important thing for me is that the players who were questioned for the last four or five weeks for their performances got back to a proper Cork City performance tonight.
“When you restrict Dundalk to no real chance bar a scrappy goal at the end, it showed that we were back to our best.”
City’s Conor McCormack admitted that disappointment was the over-riding factor in the home dressing room after the game.
The midfielder was named man of the match as the Rebel Army came within three minutes of clinching the title, and he acknowledged the frustration of being denied by Robbie Benson’s late equaliser.
“We’re a wee bit down, because we went in believing we could beat them,” he said.
“We’d beaten them the last few times and the goal was their only real chance. We went out to win the game tonight and unfortunately we fell that wee bit short.
“We’re all disappointed, but we played well. [Dylan] Connolly got down the line and it was a deflected cross, I think Ryan Delaney had an outstretched leg and it fell to Benson.”
With six defeats in their previous nine games in all competitions heading into the match — four in six in the league — City had begun to waver slightly, as Dundalk pieced together a nine-game winning run in the league, FAI Cup and EA Sports Cup.
McCormack accepted that the team had come in for stick, but was pleased to have responded with a performance.
“There’s a lot of people giving us criticism,” he said.
“You have to remember that three teams go down this year so teams are fighting for their lives and every match matters. Things had gone against us for the past few weeks, but we did well tonight and hopefully we can wrap things up soon.
“We’ve been unbelievable this season and been unlucky the last few weeks, you’d say that Rovers was the only game we should definitely have lost.
“All of the lads were up for it and gave a great account of themselves but that’s football, that’s the way it happens.”
A failure to get a second goal during a fruitful first-half period was costly for City.
“In the first half, Gary Rogers made a couple of saves when we were on top,” McCormack said. “We were unfortunate not to get the second goal to kill it off but that’s why Dundalk are where they are, they’re a very good team.
Assuming Dundalk beat Finn Harps on Friday week, City’s next chance to claim the title will be away to Bohemians on October 13. McCormack is optimistic.
“We’re confident,” he said.
City captain Alan Bennett remained upbeat: “It was a wonderful turnout by the Cork people and we played some good football before getting caught at the end. 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.”
This story first appeared in today's Irish Examiner.