O’Callaghan key to Cork’s challenge

THE return to form of George O’Callaghan against Shelbourne has given Cork City an important lift as the eircom League enters its closing stages.

Cork will look for a repeat performance tomorrow when they face Derry City at Turner’s Cross (12 noon) in a game they must win if they are not to lose touch with Bohemians.

The visit of Derry will revive memories of the day they spoiled Cork’s unbeaten home record in the FAI Cup semi-final. It was a defeat that still rankles with Cork, who went straight up to the Brandywell the following week to achieve a battling draw in the League.

Central to their plans of overturning Derry is the role of O’Callaghan. The skilful striker has had a big influence on Cork’s season and it is significant that some of their best performances mirrored his own personal form. He was back to his cheeky best against Shelbourne, dropping deep to attract the ball from his defenders, denying Shels possession and linking effectively with his strike partner, John O’Flynn. His goal was critical for it gave Cork the early confidence they needed to hold Shels off.

Said Cork manager Liam Murphy: “We need George to be operating at that level for us. He gives us options and his ability to drop deep and carry the ball forward allows John O’Flynn to occupy their last defender. When George focuses for the 90 minutes he is a big asset to us.”

O’Callaghan suffered a slump in form in mid-season and as a result he was ousted from the centre-forward position and pressed into service in midfield or on the flank. He showed against Shels that his most effective position is alongside O’Flynn, whose attitude to competition is exemplary and makes him one of the top players in the League.

Cork will need both of them in top form if they are to beat Derry tomorrow for the Candystripes are always well-organised in defence, where Eddie McCallion and Paddy McLaughlin are not easily fazed. With Peter Hutton there to add his experience and Alan Gough in good form in goal, Cork will battle for scores.

Cork will be unable to call upon midfielders Conor O’Grady and Colin T. O’Brien because of injuries and should be unchanged from the team that beat Shels.

O’Grady was preparing for a comeback after missing a month when he damaged a groin muscle in an U21 match in midweek and O’Brien was injured in training.

Bohemians will be expected to continue their winning ways when they play Bray Wanderers at the Carlisle Grounds, although their form has been less than convincing in recent weeks. It was a surprise to see them held to a 1-1 draw by UCD at Dalymount last week. Said manager Stephen Kenny: “There is nothing between top and bottom, everybody is capable of beating everybody else. The days when the bottom clubs were ‘whipping-boys’ are long gone.”

The Bohs manager does not expect to change his team for Mark Rutherford has quickly regained his match fitness after injury. Paul McNally will again be missing from the defence because of injury but Derek Coughlan has proved an effective partner for Colin Hawkins.

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