Although some City fans might find this disappointing, in reality it is a feat of remarkable consistency on the part of the club’s players and staff.
While there is no exact equivalent in City’s short but colourful history (and ignoring the feats of their illustrious predecessors such as Cork Hibs, Celtic, Athletic and United), this sustained period of achievement is reminiscent of three other purple patches from the club’s back pages.
The earliest involved City’s first great side, of the late 80s and early 90s, which was managed by Noel O’Mahony.
This now legendary team, featuring the likes of Dave Barry, Declan Daly, Phil Harrington, a young Anthony Buckley, Mick Conroy, John Caulfield, Pat Morley and the late Paul Bannon (RIP), finished in 2nd, 3rd, 1st and 2nd positions in four successive seasons between 1990 and 1994.
Before this they had won a League Cup in 1988 and, as you might just remember, there was also the small matter of a certain Bayern Munich match in ’91. This was the team which put the club firmly on the map, a team of hard men, winning the game the hard way, but with talent and skill flowing throughout. The kind of team which breeds a tradition of winning.
The next period of high achievement was created by the very fine side managed by Dave Barry from 1996-2000. Barry’s team were spectacular to watch and included a nice mix of established fans’ favourites (all of whom the manager had once played alongside himself) such as Stephen Napier, Fergus O‘Donoghue and Patsy Freyne, combined with the youthful exuberance of new additions Ollie Cahill, Colin T O’Brien, Derek Coughlan, Gareth Cronin, Brian Barry Murphy, Noel Hartigan, Noel Mooney and Greg O’Halloran.
Added to this fine blend were Englishman Dave Hill, Galway man Mark Herrick and Tipp native Kelvin Flanagan, all of whom brought real quality and assurance.
Both current CCFC manager John Caulfield and his assistant John Cotter played significant roles when this side agonisingly finished runners-up to a Paul Osam-inspired St. Patrick’s Athletic in 1998 and again in 1999.
These near misses for the league title could have been the defining moments in this particular team’s history but, thankfully, Derek Coughlan’s powerfully headed goal - which brought the club its first FAI Cup in 1998 - and Noel Hartigan’s superb volley in a League Cup victory in the Cross in the same year, ensured their efforts would be justly commemorated with silverware.
The final period which stands out is from 2003/2004 to 2008. Back in 2003/2004 a great Shelbourne side, starring Jason Byrne, Joseph Ndo and Wesley Hoolihan, seemed unstoppable . Pat Dolan was manager of Cork City during those progressive years when a City side featuring future Irish senior internationals Kevin Doyle, Alan Bennett and Joe Gamble finished third and then second in the league, but it wasn’t until 2005, with the club now under the helm of Damien Richardson, that City finally got the better of Shels.
However, just as the Tolka Park dragon was slain a Stephen Kenny-inspired Derry City, including the likes of the magical Paddy McCourt and goal-machine Mark Farren – the latter sadly no longer with us - threatened to steal the league title on the very last day in Turners Cross.
Fortunately for us, goals from John O Flynn and Liam Kearney ensured that the prize finally ended up in our hands on what was a truly memorable night at the Cross. Captain Dan Murray would also lift an FAI Cup in 2007 and a Setanta Cup in 2008 to cap off what could be deemed the most successful period to date for the club.
So, tomorrow afternoon, as well as going in search of FAI Cup glory, this latest incarnation of Cork City will be fighting for the right to be considered alongside the great generations of the club’s past. And despite the solid improvement year on year during John Caulfield’s tenure, they will desperately want to be seen as winners in their own right rather than merely as valiant challengers.
My own feeling too is that this is a side which deserves better than to be remembered as Dundalk’s sloppy seconds and, to that end, victory tomorrow would be a just reward for FORAS, for Caulfield, for the players and for the fans – and another milestone in the history of one of Ireland’s great football clubs.