Mayo man Ronan Murray is likely to partner Galway man Pat Hoban in a dangerous strike pairing as Stephen Kenny’s Lilywhites look to bring the Leesiders’ lightning start to the season to a halt.
The Dundalk-Cork City rivalry has developed into the most intense in Irish sport over the past five years, and the latest instalment plays out this evening.
With Cork already four points clear of the Lilywhites after just three games, Kenny’s men dare not lose, and City boss John Caulfield is expecting a bruising encounter.
“I think it’ll be very tight, they’re always physical,” said Caulfield.
They’ve a much stronger and more physical team with Hoban coming in. He’s a big guy and he likes to throw his weight around and is very aggressive.
“Hoban was their marquee player when they won the league in 2014. Murray has played a lot of games in England and done really well with Galway so they’re two very creative players and they’ve got goals.”
Hoban has returned to Dundalk after three seasons in England, and the Loughrea man got his season up and running with a brace in the 8-0 win over Dundalk.
Despite two goals in the President’s Cup defeat to Cork, Murray is yet to get off the mark in the league and was frustrated Dundalk’s trip to Derry was cancelled after the Limerick massacre.
“We could have done with playing the game in the Brandywell but our focus is on Cork now so hopefully we can bring that confidence into that and score some more goals,” Murray told dundalkfc.com.
“Cork will be a big game. We’ve already played them here in the President’s Cup so we’ve got a feel for what the game is like and it can only be even bigger as a league game. It will be all guns blazing.”
While the Louth side have lost influential stars like playmaker Patrick McEleney, striker Dave McMillan, and defender Niclas Vemmelund, they have drafted in a host of new players since the club was taken over by the Peak6 investment group, with high-profile moves for players including Irish underage star Sam Byrne from Everton, talented centre-back Daniel Cleary, striker Marco Tagbajumi from Norway, Lithuanian international Karolis Chvedukas, and exciting Hungarian talent Krisztian Adorjan, once of Liverpool.
“They’ve invested so heavily,” says Caulfield.
If you look at their panel, they look much stronger. To be fair to them they’re saying they feel they are going to be better this season — and they needed to be better — so we’ll see.
Caulfield may talk up Dundalk’s signings but the Cork boss was aggressive himself in the transfer market in pre-season.
Like Kenny, the Cork boss turned to a club hero of the past in his search for goals, with Graham Cummins returning to Turner’s Cross after six years in England and Scotland.
Tasked with filling the void left by Seanie Maguire as the club’s main goalgetter, the former St Johnstone man has made an impressive start, with four goals in two league games, having missed the win over Waterford through suspension.
Caulfield says Cork are a very different club to the one Cummins left in 2012.
“I think it’s surprised him since he’s come back the level we’re at and the whole surroundings of the club and what’s gone on behind the scenes, the whole background team we have,” says Caulfield.
“It’s been a much higher intensity than he’s been used to, and that’s surprised him.
“Thankfully the most important thing is on the pitch, he’s been getting goals and long may that continue.”
Cummins was also on the scoresheet in the President’s Cup season curtain-raiser as City came from 2-0 down to beat Dundalk 4-2 last month, and Cork are hoping that wound is still fresh.
Dundalk have not beaten Cork in their last seven attempts.
“There might be an element somewhere in their heads that they were 2-0 up and we won 4-2 but they’ve said since they weren’t prepared and took their foot off the pedal,” observes Caulfield.
“With the Limerick match last week they’re back on track. There’s no doubt it’ll be a very competitive game.”
John Dunleavy is a long-term absentee for City while striker Josh O’Hanlon is back in training after injury. John Mountney remains out for Dundalk but experienced duo Brian Gartland and skipper Stephen O’Donnell are available for the Lilywhites.