There’s been a shift in the balance of power in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division in recent weeks. Cork City are now 5-4 favourites to win the League of Ireland title after last weekend’s 2-1 win over champions Dundalk, and sit six points clear with a 100% record.
But Caulfield knows that only puts an even bigger bounty on the Leesiders’ heads.
“Any team that will play us now will come out and up their performance. Teams will be trying to make a name for themselves, against a team that’s won six on the spin. They want to be the first to turn you over. Limerick will be at their best to turn us over so we must keep concentrating on our own game.”
Some Limerick players will have added reason to gun down City tonight.
There’s a sizable contingent of former Cork City players now plying their trade on Shannonside, including inspirational captain and hometown star Shane Duggan. John O’Flynn was a title winner at City and enjoyed cross-channel success, Ian Turner played in City’s first game in the First Division as the club reemerged under FORAS after going out of business, Stephen Kenny gave distinguished service at both City and Cobh Ramblers.
However, the name that sticks out for many Cork fans is Chiedozie Ogbene. A talented underage soccer star and GAA player with Nemo Rangers, he looked set for a bright future at Turner’s Cross after making the breakthrough last season, scoring three league goals and winning an FAI Cup winner’s medal as a substitute in the 1-0 extra-time win over Dundalk.
There was quite a shock, then, among the Leeside faithful when he left City for Martin Russell’s Limerick. Caulfield admits he was very disappointed to lose such a fine prospect.
“Absolutely we wanted to keep him. He came up through our own ranks. He’s a Cork lad and you want to keep Cork lads. We hoped he would stay, he was offered a contract and declined it for a better offer in Limerick. We shook his hand and said good luck to him.
“While I was disappointed at the time, we’ve moved on. He’s taken that road. Sometimes when young players come through ... we want to bring them all through but sometimes fellas might get better offers and fellas think they might get better offers or want more money, we can’t do anything about that. We’ve to work within our own limits, and show the bigger picture and the pathway.
“It’s about ourselves and all the players coming through who want to stay and play for their club. The likes of McNulty and Bennett, Cork lads, Gearoid Morrissey, Garry Buckley, who all came up through and are really playing for their city and county and that’s what you want.”
It’s hard to change a winning team but Caulfield cites Karl Sheppard — the two-goal hero against Dundalk — as a shining example to players on the edge of the City squad that their chance will come.
“Shep was disappointed he wasn’t featuring as much as the last two seasons but an opportunity came and he took it. Long may that continue.
“If you’re not playing, you have to be disappointed in the right manner. We don’t reassure anyone but you keep encouraging the players that they must be ready and be on the edge. The last thing you want is that they bugger off and start sulking and thinking about themselves, then they have no chance. You encourage them to keep the head up, we’ve seen this: Injuries, suspension, anything can happen, they need to be ready. If an opportunity comes, they have to take it.”
Limerick skipper Duggan is confident of an upset tonight. “It’s a massive game. They’re flying this season but no one is really expecting us to get the win so it takes a bit of pressure off us. All of the lads are mad for this game.”
Ogbene scored on his debut for Limerick against Cobh in the Munster Senior Cup but has struggled for form since, though he earned a recall in last weekend’s win over Bray and should have a point to prove tonight.
City are likely to be without Greg Bolger, who is recovering from a calf strain.