There’s a bit of surprise in John Caulfield’s voice when it’s put to him that Cork City have yet to achieve a clean sheet away from home this season. Or maybe that’s the wily City boss just making it appear that way, as they prepare to face Bray Wanderers tonight (Carlisle Grounds, 7.45pm).
Either way, he’s not going to get worried just yet.
“We like clean sheets, but I didn’t realise that. We are working hard. We have changed the back four. The lads that have come have done really well.
“We’ve played seven games. We’ve had four away. We end up playing another two away (Bray and Waterford), so, by the ninth game, we’ll have played six away. It’s funny the way it’s bouncing at the moment.
“Maybe it’s the way the league has gone this year that teams are more attacking, in terms of with a 10-team league they all realise they need to take points and it’s more of a gamble. In other years, they may have sat back.
“At the same time, we went to Limerick and coughed up a goal early on. Any team at home will have a cut off you and Bray will definitely have a cut.
“I’d love to think that, after the game, we’d have a clean sheet, but certainly I’d definitely prefer to take the three points, anyway.”
City go into tonight’s game one point clear of Waterford and Dundalk at the top of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division. They are heavy favourites to pick up their sixth league win against a Bray side who have played decent football, but have struggled to get their rewards under new manager Dave Mackey, who took over from Harry Kenny this season.
Bray come into the game having lost their last six league games, since an impressive opening-day draw away to Dundalk. In contrast to their flying start to last season, they sit rooted to the bottom of the Premier Division.
“Bray still have really quality players,” stresses Caulfielld. “Obviously, their panel isn’t as strong as it used to be, but Aaron Greene and Gary McCabe are two of the best players in the league and they score goals. At the back, Hugh Douglas has been around a long time. They’ve Conor Kenna, Sean Heaney, Pat O’Sullivan and Paul O’Conor, a nucleus of very good players.”
City have not seen league action since beating Bohs 3-0 on March 19. City defender Shane Griffin says the enforced break was welcome.
“It was a good period to recover and sort out any niggles or injuries after having four games in 10 days,” said Griffin. “It was a really beneficial week, but we’ve had enough time off. We’re ready to go again.”
Griffin has impressed for the Leesiders this season, the Carrigaline man having joined from English Championship side Reading during the last campaign.
“It was only last year I was the new face in the back four,” he says. “I was kind of looking up to the lads next to me, but there’s a bit of responsibility now to be a senior member in the back four, because it is so young, with Conor McCarthy and Sean McLoughlin being only 20.”
Griffin has been one of City’s best performers this season, and has provided a potent attacking outlet on the left alongside Kieran Sadlier — described as a “full-back’s dream” by Griffin — while he has also received plaudits for his defensive duties.
“I’d say physically, too, I’ve probably developed more. There’s a lot more to go, but I think that’s another aspect of my game that’s improved,” says the 23-year-old. “You don’t have choice of whether you can be a defender or not, that’s your job. You have to be a good defender. Anything after that is a bit of a bonus.”