Eighteen-point leads in the Premier Division are wasted on John Caulfield, writes Tony Leen.
The Cork City manager is going to sweat and fret all the way to October. Not because he has to. Because he wants to.
He slipped off to Spain last week for the mid-season break. “The sun was nice but the phone was active.”
Every manager is the same, he smiles. Really?
“Well, any manager who wants to win things, 24-7 is what this job is about. If you really want to take a day off, it’s up to yourself. But I don’t believe you can win anything if that’s the way you approach things. Maybe in November when the season is done. You switch off and hide away for a few days.”
By that measurement, Caulfield remains one of the few people in the SSE Airtricity League still oblivious to the yawning chasm that exists between his team and the rest of the league.
In Spain, he spent the hours between food forensically investigating the striker options to replace the prolific Seanie Maguire, who departs for the Irish colony at Preston North End at the end of next month.
Caulfield believes he has identified his man. Only he’s not ready to declare. If his signals this week are interpreted correctly, he is bringing in someone from England. And he might add another one with him.
It’s not that Cork City will need a fleet of security trucks to ferry Preston’s Maguire fee to the bank. The infiltration of agents in the transfer process means the selling club’s reward is often downstream in the guise of add-ons.
Having performed admirably in Belgium last summer in the Europa League, Caulfield can only sigh at the eye-watering figures players from Genk are fetching since.
“They went to the quarter-finals of the Europa League and over two games we did really well against Genk. They subsequently sold three of their players for €33 million because the perception now is that Belgian players are quality. The perception of the League of Ireland — even though we have good players — is not good across the water. (In England). We should probably be getting a fortune for the likes of Seanie Maguire. If he was with Genk, they’d probably be getting €5-€6m.”
With Maguire on his way and Cork City vulnerable in the cherry-picking season to losing the likes of Ryan Delaney and Kevin O’Connor, Caulfield’s in the odd position of scanning the dressing room for hints of unrest.
“Could it derail momentum? There’s always that danger. But we have a very strong-willed, determined squad, who are all leaders in their own right. Things happen in professional sport, players are used to that, but they knuckle down and get on with it.
“They would know in the background that we are working hard on situations to bring people in to replace those who leave. But the people we bring in, they have to buy in to what we are doing, have to share the mindset of the lads that are here. I’ve been working for the last two and a half months with that in mind. We have some situations now that are reasonably close.”
He added: “It’s difficult to prevent players going, (because) the money being offered is so big to the player — not the club. The individual rewards for the player, though, are at a totally different level.
“The greatest security we can ensure for Cork City is by playing in Europe, and especially the Champions League, where the financial rewards are massive.”
“If we win the Premier Division this season, qualification for the Champions League is worth €500,000 or €600,000. The Europa League is worth €220,000. It’s significant. Plus, if you win a round of the Champions League, the money doubles. The pot is big.”
The Europa League draw is next Monday, and Cork’s involvement — and the now likely Champions League qualification for next season, increases the club’s appeal to anyone coming in from overseas.
“I keep saying to players, ‘are you more interested in talking about the money or the football’? If I get a good feeling that the football is the number one, we are on the right track.
“If money is the number one, generally I move on. No-one should care if you earn an extra €100 somewhere. At the end of your career, you want to make sure you have medals in your pocket. We are constantly looking for hungry players who really want to prove themselves and have a great attitude. That’s what we have built here and it’s taken us a long time to do that. We are in a good place with the players we have.”
The boy from the Bronx had done good. Many other clubs hanging onto Dundalk’s coat-tails might have fallen away at this stage. Under Caulfield’s vigilant and conscientious eye, Cork have leapfrogged the champions and bounded out of everyone’s reach. But the club’s efforts to produce some indigenous talent via the academy system is only beginning to yield some return.
“Our talent coming through (the system) has been disappointing,” Caulfield admits.
“It’s only now we are putting a structure in place to maximise the chances of getting players through at 16 to (have the opportunity) to make them better. Too many under estimate the step up. Garry Buckley was mentioned — he’s the only one who’s made the breakthrough in recent times.
“Conor Ellis has come through — to the extent that he now has an opportunity. Will he be a prolific goalscorer over the next 10 years? We would hope so, and we have high hopes for acouple of guys like Alec Byrne, Conor McCarthy, Aaron Drinan, and Pierce Phillips. We are going to give them that opportunity to make the breakthrough but it’s only over the next two or three years to see can they step up to it.
“We’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes on the underage because we feel they need more training, more specific stuff. In an ideal world, what you want is Seanie Maguire going out the door, the next one is coming through. But our underage numbers over the last five years? Very few have come through.
“When I first joined the club, players were walking out the door like Daryl Horgan and Shane Duggan because the club wasn’t doing well. Obviously now when players can see Cork challenging for honours, averaging 5,000 a game, playing in Europe, that’s what players want. We don’t have to sell Cork now.
“The players will come here and must live here because we don’t allow players live outside Cork. You can’t travel up and down the country every day for training. We are strict on that even though some clubs aren’t.”
Sixteen wins from 18 Premier Division games this season is an extraordinary show of consistency and concentration.
“When a team is not winning games, often it’s a lack of consistency from players,” Caulfield says. “I keep saying, over the course of five games, a player might be brilliant in one, mediocre in two, and non-existent in two more. Ultimately if you want to win league titles and challenge for honours, you need fellas who are performing at 8/10 every week. Thankfully we are now at a stage in the club where we have players who are consistent week on week. And that takes work. And pride in your work.”
The people we bring in, they have to buy in to what we are doing
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