A year of great expectations for Cork City

In a club and a city on the march, Cork City captain Johnny Dunleavy looks forward and back, says Neal Horgan.

A year of great expectations for Cork City

Nothing great occurs without small talk. And the small talk around Cork at the moment, of course, revolves around the new event centre planned for the old Beamish & Crawford’s brewery. And then there’s the Albert Quay development ‘down by the Marina’.

And don’t forget the new bicycles and the ‘fecking’ bicycle lanes. (Well, you can’t please everyone). That’s quite a lot of positive change really for a city that has, like many others, struggled through a dark period.

Add to the above, the planned redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the recent first ever visit of the Supreme Court and there is much to suggest that this is a city on the up.

The fortunes of Cork City FC could be seen, to some extent, to have mirrored the fortunes of the city itself over the past six or so years and thankfully, positive change has also been reflected at the club in recent times.

During the last few months CCFC have made — by League of Ireland standards at least — some huge signings, most notably Liam Miller, who once played with Celtic and Manchester United, no less.

Former City favourite, the twice-Ireland capped former captain of AFC Wimbledon and Brentford, Alan Bennett, is no mug.

Add new attacking players Karl Shephard and Kieran Djilali, along with young midfielder Gavan Holohan, and take into account the loss of only one player — Gearoid Morrissey — who was in the starting eleven last year, and you will agree that this is a strengthened squad.

Throw in the prospect of European football, for the first time since 2008, and it all adds up to an exciting season ahead for the City faithful.

City captain Johnny Dunleavy is excited too.

“Turner’s Cross on a European night is something the lads have told me is amazing and I can’t wait for it. However, you can’t look too far ahead. The season is starting and we just need to be focusing on the first game and then the next. It’s dangerous to look too far ahead.”

There’s a catchy song about Dunleavy that goes ‘Oh Johnny Dunleavy, oh Johnny Dunleavy’ over and over again, which the crowd up in the new shed at Turner’s Cross have been singing for some time.

However, while Dunleavy is entering his fourth season with the club, last year was the first one in which it can be said he properly earned the song.

31 league games played out of 33, the other two only missed through suspension, was not bad for a man who couldn’t put two games together for a few horrific injury-plagued years from 2010 to 2013.

“I’m loving it, everyone wants to play all the games,” he enthuses. “To have the season we had last year, to be 45 minutes away from winning the title and, on a personal level, to play regularly without injury — it was great.”

Apart, of course, from the haunting disappointment of coming up just short on that very last night in Dundalk.

“You’d still be thinking about it, here and there, over the off-season,” the skipper admits.

“You’d find a thought coming into your head — had you done this or that just a little differently or, on the other hand, had you gone on a mad run and had a pop at goal, then maybe we would have won it.”

But there are no lingering regrets, even though the stakes on that final night could not have been higher.

“I hadn’t experienced anything like the pressure leading up to that game before,” Dunleavy reveals.

“I rang a sports psychologist that I use sometimes and I told him, ‘I’m feeling nervous.’ ‘No’, he said, ‘that’s excitement, these are the games you live for,’ and I took it from there. We came close, very close and I don’t think many people expected that at the start of the season.”

He is right of course but, as City kick off their league season away to Sligo tonight, naturally enough, this year expectations will be different.

* Neal Horgan is author of the recently published book ‘Death of a Football Club? The Story of Cork City FC: 2008.’

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