City venture to Tallaght Stadium tonight knowing a win and a slip-up by Dundalk against St Patrick’s Athletic would see City crowned champions for the third time in their history.
However Cork’s three meetings with Rovers this season have all been fiery affairs, marked by red cards, spectacular goals, and angry words — the Bradley-Caulfield exchanges would rival the McGregor-Mayweather machinations.
The rival bosses have angrily fired accusations of diving, and this week, Caulfield says his side would be expecting “gamesmanship” from the Hoops in Tallaght tonight, saying: “A few lads out there pretend to be hard and when someone runs by them, they hit the deck.”
All set for another thriller in Tallaght for tonight’s big match on television, then.
Yesterday, however, Rovers boss Bradley refused to bite back at Caulfield, and instead paid tribute to Caulfield’s runaway SSE Airtricity Premier Division leaders.
“That doesn’t really interest me. I respect John and I respect Cork in terms of what they’re doing this year, winning a league,” he said. “They’ve worked long and hard to get here, four years of work, so they deserve all the respect in the world for that. I’ve no interest in getting involved in talking about something that happened three weeks ago.
“Cork have earned the right to win the league wherever they win it, whether it’s Tallaght or wherever they play next week. Cork are league champions-elect and they’ve shown themselves to be the best team in the country this year. So we’re going to be up against it.”
City won 2-1 in Tallaght on St Patrick’s Day and won 4-1 as Rovers finished with 10 men at Turner’s Cross in May. But the Hoops got revenge in August as they won the EA Sports Cup semi-final 1-0 in the last minute of extra-time thanks to a James Doona winner. That game saw Alan Bennett sent off after clashing with Dave Webster, which sparked the latest bad blood.
Cork’s Garry Buckley scored the crucial goal as City beat Finn Harps 1-0 last week to get back to winning ways in the league, and the Cork midfielder is expecting another close encounter.
“The Rovers games have been a bit fiery, so it’s going to be about keeping your head and keeping your feet on the floor,” he said.
While Cork will win the league tonight if results go their way, John Caulfield isn’t expecting it.
“I think there’s no chance of us winning the league on Friday night,” he said. “We need two wins. I don’t think anything will change that. I don’t see Dundalk dropping points.
“We’ll need two wins to win the league. It’s not a formality despite what people will say.”
Nevertheless, Caulfield admits winning the league will be a special day for him and his backroom.
“For us as a management, all of us have played for the club, we’ve supported the club, and now we’re all part of that. We all came in from amateur football. Maybe when we came in, we had a point to prove. As a former player and supporter, the joy we give our own people is massive.”
Stephen Dooley is a doubt once again for Cork tonight, as is Greg Bolger. For Rovers, Luke Byrne and Dave Webster are out but Simon Madden returns. Ronan Finn was sent off in the cup win against Shels but his suspension does not count for the league.
Bluebell United v Shamrock Rovers, Tallaght Stadium, 7.45pm (replay to be played on Monday, September 11, Tallaght Stadium, 7.45pm); Dundalk v Drogheda United, Oriel Park, 7.45pm (replay to be played on Tuesday, September 12, United Park, 7.45pm); Galway United v Limerick, Eamonn Deacy Park, 7.45pm (replay to be played on Monday, September 11, Markets Field, 7.45pm);
Longford Town v Cork City, City Calling Stadium, 7.30pm (replay to be played on Tuesday, September 12, Turner’s Cross, 7.45pm).