The champions travel to Waterford tonight knowing victory for Alan Reynolds’ side will see the Blues leapfrog City at the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division standings.
After surging to the First Division crown last season, following the club’s takeover by Swindon Town owner and former Ireland U21 international Lee Power, Waterford were tipped as dark horses to push at the top end of the Premier Division this season and are living up to expectations.
For his part, Caulfield says he is not surprised by their progress in their first season since promotion.
“We can see from outside, anyone can come into our league and invest and take over. There are a number of clubs that have a strong fanbase and tradition in soccer in the area so it’s a no brainer really,” said Caulfield yesterday.
“Last year in the First Division, Waterford brought in some serious players — even Kenny Browne going from us back home, even though they were in the First Division. They’ve brought in Paul Keegan, Bastien Hery, Gavan Holohan is very good.
"They’ve a nucleus of a very strong team, and Izzy Akinade has come in from Bohs up front and Courtney Duffus has been getting goals. When you invest like that, you expect to win.
Waterford have basically bought a Premier Division title-challenging team. They way they’ve started they’ve shown that and they’ll be there right to the end.
Kenny Browne’s move to Waterford in January 2017 was a bone of contention between the clubs, but there are several close links between the pair.
John Kavanagh, ineligible tonight, is on loan from City; Gavan Holohan spent two years on Leeside before moving to Galway last season and then Waterford this year, while goalkeeper Matt Connor was back-up to Mark McNulty at Turner’s Cross before moving back to Waterford.
Both Holohan and Connor were substitutes in Cork’s extra-time 2016 FAI Cup win over Dundalk, which Browne played at the heart of Cork’s defence.
On Cork’s bench as part of the backroom that day was Waterford manager Alan Reynolds. Caulfield isn’t worried that will give Reynolds insider knowledge to the Cork camp, however.
“To be fair, Renny was here for one season, at the time he was working for the FAI and wasn’t full-time. He was very good but he wasn’t on the training ground every day.
“He was averaging once a week as part of the backroom and he was bringing Kenny Browne up from Waterford. Would Renny know what I’m about?
"Of course he would, he was in the dressing room for the season, he’d know the way we do things. Has he any secrets? I wouldn’t think so. He knows enough about us and we know enough about him.”
City beat Waterford 2-0 in the pair’s first league meeting this season, as second-half goals from Gearoid Morrissey and Garry Buckley ground down the Blues.
Kenny Browne was a favourite on Leeside before switching to hometown club Waterford and he is relishing tonight’s occasion at the RSC, which is expected to sell out.
“It’s a big occasion for us on Friday against Cork. We have played them already so we know what they are about. They are a top side and they along with Dundalk are probably the best team in the country.
But look, we don’t fear anybody. We think that we are playing well and I think that we can beat anybody on our day. I think that we are a different team now to the one that lost to Cork earlier in the season.
Waterford welcome back Dean O’Halloran and Rory Feely from injury for the game but Gavan Holohan is a big doubt. Right back John Kavanagh is unavailable due to the terms of his loan from City. Only Johnny Dunleavy is definitely out for City, though defender Alan Bennett may not be risked.
Pat Fenlon, formerly Waterford’s technical director, is now working as a worldwide consultant for Waterford owner Lee Power. The role took him to familiar pastures last Friday as he was in the crowd at the Carlisle Grounds watching Cork’s 4-0 win over Bray.
“Pat Fenlon is playing the silent role but I’ve no doubt he has a huge input in Waterford and has been instrumental in the success,” said Caulfield.
“Don’t think Pat is sitting in the background having cups of tea. He’s working to keep Waterford at the top.”