Con Houlihan liked to tell the story of his first ever assignment as a sports reporter.
It was a long-ago club hurling game in Kerry which, according to the great man, was played in such ferocious, hurricane-like conditions that, when it was all over, he took a certain grim satisfaction in being able to file an understandably brief match report which carried the deathless scoreline: 0-0 0-0.
With the weather the only thing anyone is talking about — well, that and the VAR, obviously — it seemed appropriate to put in a call to Cork City manager John Caulfield and ask him to pick a stand-out weather event (as we’re now obliged to call them) from his days as a player with the club.
“The only time I remember playing in heavy snow was a game against Bray at Turner’s Cross in the winter of ’87/88,” he told me. “We actually lost the match one-nil but what I really remember is that it snowed so heavily you could hardly see what you were doing. There was no yellow ball and it was impossible to turn or twist. The game shouldn’t have gone ahead. The crowd was really small as well and because the visibility got worse and worse as the game went on it, the whole thing became a farce, really.
“There was another time we played Monaghan away in a cup game in the ’90s and there was ice and fog. I remember arriving in Gortakeegan and the pitch was frozen. The game was on TV too but because of the fog you couldn’t see the goals — we won 2-0. The funny thing was we were adamant that the match should be played. There was a suggestion that the game be re-fixed for the following Wednesday but we were all part-time fellas so we were going, ‘not a chance we’re coming back up here (laughs)’.”
Caulfield has no issue with the FAI’s decision to be pro- active in cancelling the entire League of Ireland schedule for this weekend, including what would have been a home game for City against Bohemians at Turner’s Cross last night.
“You don’t want games off but you got to the point this week where there could be nothing done about it,” he said. “Sometimes you’re saying, ‘don’t make an early call, give it a chance’ but it was obvious this time that there was no chance of the games going ahead.”
The rescheduling of the Bohs game for Monday, March 19, means the current league leaders will face a demanding schedule this month. But as Caulfield points out, they won’t be alone in having to contend with that.
“It’s hectic with Friday-Monday, Friday-Monday games and it’s tough going alright but we’re all in the same boat,” he said. “With this kind of schedule you might look to rotate things if you can. There’s a few players you’d look at it in particular in terms of overload and try to balance that with a rest period. Someone like Benno (Alan Bennett), for example. It’s funny but we weren’t going to play him against Bohs because he was after playing two games in four days. And then the Bohs game was called off.
“And having the game off also gives someone like (Josh) O’Hanlon a chance to get back in the frame. In fact, for all the clubs it probably gives them an extra few days to give anyone who has a knock a chance to get back. But, certainly, we’ll be heading into an absolutely hectic period.”
The weather also took its toll on City’s training schedule this week, as the manager explains.
“We did a light session Tuesday morning (after the 4-1 win in Sligo on Monday night). Wednesday was a day off as normal but then we had to cancel training on Thursday. So the plan is to back in today (Saturday).”
Weather interruptions aside, Cauflield is understandably pleased, but not getting carried away, with how his high-scoring team has hit the ground running in defence of its title.
“We’re delighted with the start Graham Cummins has had and the bigger picture is that we’re creating lots of chances and scoring goals from different areas: four against Dundalk, three against Pats, two against Waterford and four up in Sligo. That’s pleasing.
“But at the end of the day it’s only a good start. I don’t allow myself to get too excited. Next weekend we have Dundalk on Friday and Rovers on Monday and you could be third after those two games. So it’s still early days but it’s already good to see that the players we brought in are doing what we expected of them.”
Finally, an update on a fan’s favourite who has had much more than troublesome weather keeping him off the pitch for quite some time.
“I would hope that, everything going well, Johnny Dunleavy could be available again in early to mid-April,” said Caulfield. “This month ahead is a big one for him. He’s due to come in training with us in about ten days’ time and he’ll need to get maybe three or four weeks under his belt.
“This is a key time for a player like him. You’ve done so much training on your own and so much straight running, and to come in and get the contact going and start turning and twisting, will determine where you’re at. And with an injury like Johnny’s had, that’s the real test, whether you can do all that and take the knocks. So this is his month and, from talking to the physios, if everything goes according to plan, we’d expect to have him back in the second to third week of April.”
By which time, hey, we might even be experiencing something which bears at least a passing resemblance to spring.
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