Amid the serious business at hand, there was some light relief around at Cork City’s Bishopstown training ground this week.
A 7-0 cup quarter-final win can do that. It was Kieran Sadlier’s perfect hat-trick that lit up City’s demolition job at Longford and had the Cork City players and management chuckling.
A powerful header, a sniffer’s left-foot finish and a 30-yard right-foot effort lit up City Calling Stadium — but still didn’t earn Sadlier the TV man of the match, Karl Sheppard earning the honour from Stuart Byrne, who announced his decision seconds before former West Ham man Sadlier flashed in a thunderbolt from 25 yards.
We’re trying to get the trophy off Shep on Monday to give it to Kieran. The craic was good. Maybe Stuey must be from Malahide,” joked Caulfield.
But the tension ratchets up again tonight for last season’s double winners. With six games to go and six points off the pace, there’s little margin for error for the reigning champions as they look to keep Dundalk in their sights.
Win tonight, and Cork will give leaders Dundalk — not in action this weekend — something to think about. Stephen Kenny’s Lilywhites juggernaut will come rolling down the M8 knowing a win for City at Turner’s Cross next week would leave them level on points, albeit with two games more played.
Anything less than three points for City in Phibsboro tonight, and they might start putting the black and white ribbons on the Premier Division trophy. Dundalk have already sold out their away supporter allocation for the Turner’s Cross clash.
So how Caulfield could do with a repeat display from Sadlier tonight.
“I always felt Kieran was a phenomenal player... Kieran’s best supporter is myself,” said the Cork boss.
Back in March and April, I felt he was on the edge of being called up for Ireland. He did get a knock and maybe it dented his confidence but in the last few weeks he’s looked very sharp.
“When Kieran is at that form he is the top player in the league. There’s no doubt about his skill or ability: it’s just consistency. That’s what it’s about if he wants to go to higher level — which he does.
“Last week is gone, Friday is a difficult game. I’m hoping he can produce another fantastic performance.
The last number of weeks the bounce is back and hopefully it continues in the run-in.”
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Sadlier will even be a starter tonight, as Caulfield will make changes, with Graham Cummins set a recall.
Damien Delaney is likely to return to the centre of defence, an area of concern for Caulfield as a raft of injuries look likely to squeeze his options, with Sean McLoughlin, Conor McCarthy, Johnny Dunleavy all sidelined, and Alan Bennett a serious doubt.
The scene is perfectly set then for an ambush in Dublin 7, and Keith Long’s men play their first home fixture in six weeks tonight looking to make it seven wins in a row in all competitions for the first time in 10 years.
Long said: “They are champions, we are the underdogs. Cork are a strong, well-organised, talented team with some outstanding players. We will have to play to our maximum to get a result but if we can manage to do that, we know that they are capable.
Bohs will be without Ryan Masterson (quad) and Danny Grant (bug) while Darragh Leahy (groin) is a doubt.
Elsewhere, Waterford will look to reenergise their push for Europe as they host Bray Wanderers at the RSC this evening (7.45pm). The Blues come into the game after a disappointing FAI Cup quarter-final exit at UCD last Friday.
“Credit to UCD but we felt it was one of our poorest performances,” said Waterford boss Alan Reynolds. “We’ve spoken about it as a group and we’re all sticking together and looking to Friday.”
Noel Hunt (groin) is rated 50/50 and midfielder Bastien Hery is suspended. Estonian Sander Puri returns from international duty but Cory Galvin and Derek Daly are out.
Stephen Bradley’s Shamrock Rovers bid to hold on to third place as the host Limerick this evening (8pm). “I think the players deserve massive credit for how they’ve been the last two or three months in terms of how far we were off Waterford and Europe, the turnaround. They worked hard,” said Bradley.
Tomorrow evening Sligo Rovers host St Patrick’s Athletic (7.45pm).
There’s a huge game in the First Division this evening as leaders UCD travel to second-placed Finn Harps knowing a point will secure the title and promotion for the Students.
Collie O’Neill’s UCD are already through to the FAI Cup semi-final, where they will meet Dundalk.
“Friday’s is a huge game for us. Even though it’s first against second, we’re not treating the game any differently than we have all our other games this year. Our games against Finn Harps have been very close this year, they will be confident of securing the three points and bringing it down to the last game.”
Elsewhere, Cabinteely host Shelbourne, Drogheda United meet Longford Town and Galway United take on Wexford (all 7.45pm).