John Caulfield cited a demoralising double loss in Europe as a pivotal point in Cork City’s fortunes last season, the team’s subsequent slump in league form meaning that, even with a late rally, they were unable to defend their title as Dundalk reclaimed the glittering prize.
Doubtless Caulfield’s then assistant, now successor, John Cotter will be hoping that European competition can have the opposite effect this time around as, in the midst of a season of much toil and no little trouble, City welcome Luxembourg’s Progres Niederkorn to Turner’s Cross for a first round, first leg Europa League qualifier (kick off 7.45pm).
Progress is, indeed, the name of the game.
For a team which has gone six matches without a win, any sort of victory would be welcome, but if City can take command of this tie tonight, they know that they will put themselves in a great position to advance to the second round and a box-office meeting with Rangers — it being pretty safe to assume that the Glasgow giants, already four goals to the good, will make no mistake about finishing off their first round tie against St Joseph’s of Gibraltar at Ibrox next week.
“It’s been mentioned,” says full-back Colm Horgan of the tantalising prospect of tangling with Steven Gerrard’s team.
“Not around the dressing room but I’ve had people saying it to me. But there’s no point saying it ourselves unless we actually do the business against Progres.”
For head coach Cotter, the key to success lies in imposing a high-tempo, front-foot game on tonight’s visitors.
“You’d always look for a good start if you can,” he says.
Often in European games the tempo can be slower than in the League of Ireland. We still need to play at a good tempo for ourselves, I think that’s when we’re at our best.
"Are there times when you’re just going to be sitting in your shape? More than likely, I would say yes, but we know where we’re good and when we are good and we’ll try to be on the front foot.
“We’re at home and the onus is on us to do that. It’s important not to concede and win your home leg, ideally, if you can.
“That’s what we’ll be planning to be doing: Take the game to them and be on the front foot. We’ll be trying to do that from the off.”
Even though Progres had to avail of the away goals rule to get past Cardiff Met in the first round, Cotter is not underestimating the Luxembourg team.
“We had somebody watching them live a couple of weeks ago and last week in the second leg,” he says.
“We’d have watched a lot of videos of them and they’re a good side. These sides are generally technically very good and we have to press them well and then be good with the ball when we do get it. We have to try to stamp our game on them.
“We’ll be trying to give the supporters something to cheer about. The fans have been phenomenal and they should never underestimate the role they play or the impact it has on the players.”
For Colm Horgan, the prospect of making his European debut is especially alluring.
“It’s one of the best things about playing in the League of Ireland,” he says.
We played Preston on Monday and most of them will never get to play in Europe. Obviously, they’re earning a lot more money and are playing at a higher standard in the Championship but they won’t get that chance to play in Europe.
“It’s something that you can really look forward to and enjoy and then you can look back on it when you retire as something that was unbelievable.”
On the injury front, City are likely to have to plan without the services of Cian Murphy, Cian Bargary, Pierce Phillips, and Kevin O’Connor, while Shane Griffin is also a doubt as he continues to make his way back from the shoulder injury suffered against St. Pat’s in May.