As the old season ended, so the new one begins, with Cork City hosting the champions. But that’s where the similarities end. The home side ran out 4-2 winners last October but, well merited though the victory was, there was plenty of evidence on the night that the newly-crowned kingpins from Dublin were already in holiday mood.
It will be very different at the Cross this evening, and not just because Liam Buckley’s already formidable array of talent has been boosted by the return of Irish international Keith Fahey who, despite his lengthy lay-off from the game, confirmed class is permanent with a stunning goal to give his old club a 1-0 victory in the President’s Cup against Sligo Rovers last Sunday.
But the real excitement on Leeside ahead of the big kick-off has been generated by the appointment of local legend John Caulfield at the helm of Cork City. The new manager has described tonight’s meeting with Pat’s as “an incredible opening game for the club” and, indeed, such is the buzz around the place that as many as 5,000 could at the Cross tonight.
Add in the fact the game marks the beginning of City’s 30th anniversary season, and all the ingredients are in place for what should be a memorable occasion to launch the 2014 season.
Indeed, one of Caulfield’s biggest tasks tonight could be to ensure his team play the game, not the occasion. But City’s Liam Kearney — like Fahey, another favourite son who has come home — reckons that taking on the top side in the country is the perfect opening test for Cork’s new-look side.
“Big time,” he says. “If someone asked me, I’d want the champions for the first game of the season. Because that’s where you set your stall out. And if it goes well, you’re putting down a marker. But we know it’s going to be tough. Pat’s have a huge squad, great players. And Keith Fahey is back. I have great memories of playing with him from U14 to U21 for Ireland back in the day. It’s great to have players like him back in the league — [Stephen] McPhail at Shamrock Rovers as well. And we’ve got Colin Healy. So there’s great players around. And that’s what people want to go and watch.”
Strikers Michael Rafter and Danny Morrissey will miss out for Cork tonight, both with ankle injuries, while Ian Turner serves a suspension carried over from last season. Pat’s report a clean bill of health and go into the game as favourites, but midfielder Greg Bolger appreciates winning the title will be even tougher this season.
“We know we’ll have to be on our game every week, as teams will be looking to raise their game against us.” Kick-off at Turner’s Cross is 7.45pm.
While Sligo Rovers and promoted Athlone Town, and Shamrock Rovers and Derry City have to wait until tomorrow and Sunday to take their respective bows, in tonight’s other Premier Division games, new Drogheda United manager Robbie Horgan faces a stiff first test with a Louth derby at home to last season’s surprise package, Dundalk; former Cork City midfielder Shane Duggan is back in his native Limerick to captain the side at Thomond Park against Alan Mathews’ Bray Wanderers; and, in a Dublin derby, UCD and Bohemians face off at the Belfield Bowl.
In the First Division, history will be made as newcomers Galway FC — managed by former Cork City boss Tommy Dunne — host Longford Town, while tonight’s domestic programme is completed by Finn Harps against Waterford United and Shelbourne at home to Wexford Youths, before Cobh Ramblers play their part in another League of Ireland first as they host Shamrock Rovers B at St Colman’s Park tomorrow.