Forget VAR. Forget writing off Germans. Forget In-ger-land. Forget Fifa conspiracies and dodgy Bob Marley cover versions. The World Cup takes a back seat tonight as the League of Ireland springs back to life with a top-of-the-table clash at Oriel Park.
John Caulfield’s champions Cork City travel to Co. Louth tonight protecting a one-point lead in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division from Stephen Kenny’s white-hot Dundalk side.
A free-scoring Dundalk come into the game on the back of eight league wins. But City hold top spot and come into the game on the back of seven league wins, so something’s gotta give this evening.
And how Cork deal with Dundalk dangerman Michael Duffy is likely to have a huge bearing on the outcome. Stephen Beattie is an injury doubt for the champions but Cork defender Colm Horgan believes he can keep Duffy on a tight leash if called upon tonight, having bounced back from his “worst day out” at Oriel Park earlier this season.
Horgan — younger brother of Ireland winger and former Dundalk star Daryl — made his first start for Cork City in the President’s Cup at Oriel Park in February. City trailed 2-0 at half-time before coming back to win 4-2. Horgan endured a torrid time in that first period up against Dundalk’s wing wizard Duffy and was called ashore by manager John Caulfield.
“Probably my worst day out would be a fair way to put it,” said Horgan this week, with refreshing candour.
“I came off at 2-0 down and we ‘won’ the second half 4-0 so you can’t expect to play the next game — Stephen Beattie came in and played unbelievably well and stayed in the team and was unbelievable the next day out against St Pat’s.
“I knew it as a matter of putting my head down and training hard and if ‘Beats’ picked up an injury, I’d be ready to go, and that happened and luckily I was ready.”
It took more than two months, but when Beattie suffered injury and suspension, Horgan grabbed his chance.
Having endured a torrid time against Duffy in the President’s Cup, and not picked when Cork lost in the league clash at Oriel Park, the former Galway United skipper Horgan excelled in City’s 1-0 win over the Lilywhites at Turner’s Cross in April, keeping former Celtic man Duffy well under wraps.
“I look forward to playing against the best players and in fairness to Micky Duffy, he is one of the best players,” says Horgan.
“I always like to challenge myself and he’s always a tough opponent and competitor. Hopefully I can come out on top again. I’ve played against Micky an awful lot and I know what to expect. I’ll still watch a few clips of him and hopefully I’ll be ready for him, and can do some stuff myself going the other way to affect the game.”
Horgan endured a tough season at Eamonn Deacy Park with Galway last season, ending with the relegation of the Tribesmen, and the 23-year-old senses the different mentality playing for the league leaders and champions.
“After a relegation battle with Galway... it’s nice to have a different kind of pressure. Last year was difficult for me personally and when I was the captain, it probably added a bit more. But it’s really exciting now. You go into games excited rather than wondering about the what-ifs and looking at other results this year we’re just looking at ourselves.”
The match comes too early for Cork’s new signing Damien Delaney who arrived from Premier League Crystal Palace, while Karl Sheppard, Beattie, Alan Bennett, and Gearóid Morrissey have all had knocks and will be assessed ahead of the game.
Cork boss John Caulfield said they will get “every chance” to prove their fitness. “We have a few knocks and bruises, but we would hope that most players would be okay. We will certainly give them all every chance to be available, right up to kick-off.
“We know it will be a very tough, intense game.
Games between the two teams have been really close over the last few years, and we expect nothing different this time around.
Like we always do, we are going there to try and win the match. Over the last number of years, we have had some really good results there, but we know we need to be at our best tomorrow. We know that, if we perform to our best, then we feel we can get the points.
“Training has been excellent all week; since last Sunday, everyone has been on the button and ready to go, and that’s the way we need it to be.”