Cork City boss John Caulfield has hailed Sean Maguire as the club’s greatest ever striker ahead of his last home game for the club tonight.
City are underdogs as they face ambitious Cypriots AEK Larnaca at Turner’s Cross this evening in the Europa League.
It will also be the last home appearance for defender Kevin O’Connor before he and Maguire complete their moves to Preston North End in the English Championship.
The pair are available for the weekend trip to Bray and the away trip to Larnaca but this will be their farewell to the home supporters on Leeside.
Caulfield, himself the club’s joint record top goalscorer with Pat Morley on 129 goals, believes in his two years at Turner’s Cross, Maguire has created a legend that won’t be matched on Leeside.
“In the period of time he’s been here, Seanie has probably been the best striker the club will ever have,” declared Caulfield.
“When you look at the likes of Morley, (John) O’Flynn, Georgie (O’Callaghan), Kevin Doyle, Roy O’Donovan... all the others have been brilliant in their own way but Seanie has had a bit of everything and that’s a credit to him.”
Maguire is in red-hot form, following up a second-half hat-trick against Levadia Tallinn last Thursday with the winner from the penalty spot against St Patrick’s Athletic last Sunday. That brought his season’s tally to 24 goals.
But Caulfield acknowledges AEK Larnaca, with a potent mix of Cypriot internationals liberally sprinkled with Spanish talent, present a formidable challenge and could ruin the fairytale farewell. Caulfield also believes soaring expectations for Irish clubs in Europe will be hard to match.
“There’s talk of reaching the group stages and you’re about to lose the top striker in Ireland in a week’s time — let’s be sensible about this,” said the manager.
“AEK are a serious team. We’ve done a lot of work on them. They’re fantastic on the ball, with that Spanish influence. They keep it so well, they are very patient, wear teams down and tire you out and lull you into a false position and then create chances.
“It’s a massive challenge to us but at the same time we look back at last year and the experience we got.
“We overperformed to knock out Hacken and gave Genk a serious test so from that point of view only a serious performance will give us any chance. We know we’re up against it but we’re looking forward to it.
“Games are coming thick and fast but this is where you want to be.”
AEK are the seeded team in the tie and ranked far higher by Uefa’s coefficient system but Caulfield scoffed at those metrics, citing the example of Rangers, knocked out last week by Luxembourg side Progrès Niederkorn in the first round.
“Rankings mean nothing... look at Rangers and St Johnstone getting knocked out last week. Before the draw ever took place, we were saying we’d have been quite happy to take either of those Scottish clubs. We’d fancy ourselves against them.
“I’d be disappointed if we don’t have a really serious go. We have to work on our strengths and areas where we can cause them trouble.
“If you do sit back for the whole game, you’ve no chance of winning.
“At the end of the day we feel we can bring the tie to Cyprus and have a chance. We know if we come out of this match and lose the game, you’re gone, or if you start conceding goals, you’re gone so we know we have to be disciplined.”
The manager believes the crowd will play a serious part tonight. “Last Thursday against Levadia, we had nearly 7,000 people. The noise was ringing in the lads’ ears coming down the tunnel, the atmosphere was incredible. We need that again.”
With long-term absentee and skipper Johnny Dunleavy the only confirmed absentee tonight, Caulfield has a decision to make regarding his team selection.
Veteran centre-back Alan Bennett missed last week’s win over Levadia and the win over St Pat’s, with Conor McCormack switching from midfield against the Estonians and young Conor McCarthy coming in against Pat’s.
Departing left-back O’Connor says if available Bennett’s calming influence could be a huge factor this evening.
“Benno’ s experience will be massive,” said O’Connor. “He’s been there and done it. Anything he says, you take it on board. He’s like the daddy of the group, go to him with anything and he’s there for you. He’s unbelievable.”
Conor McCarthy yesterday signed his first professional contract with the club.
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