To say Cork City have had their patience tested by the Saints this season would be putting it mildly. In a season of soul-searching at the Cross, St Patrick’s Athletic have been a constant torment.
On the opening night of the season, Mikey Drennan’s spot-kick gave St Pat’s a 1-0 win over Cork at Richmond Park. In April, the 10-man Saints sneaked a point at Turner’s Cross thanks to Dean Clarke’s last-minute effort — a blow coming just two weeks before the departure of John Caulfield as City boss.
Then, in May, Pat’s snatched a Simon Madden equaliser with the last kick of the game at Inchicore in a 1-1 draw. It’s small wonder then, that City defender Conor McCarthy says the Leesiders are “out to get” Harry Kenny’s men at Turner’s Cross tonight (8pm, live on eirSport).
“I think back to the first game of the season and we were well on top that day,” says McCarthy. “The 1-1 draw here, they scored in the last minute, and obviously up there again that crushed us again in the last minute. We’re definitely out to to get them.”
This has been a season of bitter disappointment for City, with last year’s league and cup runners-up now third from bottom in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, crashing out of the Europa League last month to Luxembourg underdogs Progres Niederkorn, missing out on €240,000 and a money-spinnng tie with Rangers, despite a gutsy second-leg win in the Grand Duchy.
Frustrating times, but McCarthy’s form has been one of the few bright lights for City, and he is enjoying the shift from right back to his preferred role at the centre of defence. The 21-year-old was on the scoresheet in Luxembourg in City’s 2-1 away win.
“Our performance in Luxembourg, I think, was definitely up there with where we want to be,” says McCarthy. “It was nice to score in Europe and I can take that one to the grave with me. I think performance-wise we showed what we are capable of. I know going out of Europe the way we did was soul-destroying, but I do think it was a kind of a turnaround in our season.”
City followed up the win in Luxembourg with a battling 1-1 draw at Turner’s Cross last Sunday against a fancied Shamrock Rovers side.
“We were very good defensively against Rovers. We worked a lot in our shape during the week. Rovers had run riot against UCD 7-0 and have been scoring all around them. We were probably unlucky not to win the game. We had a shout for a peno, and Darragh Crowley had a decent opportunity towards the end.
“I don’t see why we can’t go and get three points against Pat’s on Friday. I think the confidence has improved big time over the last couple of weeks.
“St Pat’s are a physical side. They go to the end, like getting those two last-minute goals. It’s going to be very tough.”
City head coach John Cotter took over this season in the most challenging of circumstances, but he will be keenly aware that he must make the most of the remaining games if he is to earn an extended term in the Turner’s Cross hot-seat.
Up next after Pat’s will be a tricky trip to face First Division Cabinteely for what may be season-saving FAI Cup run, or a graveyard where Cotter’s managerial hopes could lie.
With five draws in six league matches, Cotter must start turning those ones into threes.
“It’s just a matter of trying to put performances back-to-back and keep going and trying to turn some of those draws into wins,” said Cotter. “Five draws in six — could we have won every game? We could have. We created a few chances to win against a very good Rovers team. The challenge is now to try and take those chances and convert some of those draws into wins.”
City drafted in former Ireland U19 striker Eoghan Stokes from Derry City on Wednesday in a bid to solve that problem, while defender Josh Honohan also signed his first professional deal at the club. City also confirmed that former Sligo defender Gary Boylan has left the club.
Those moves marked the end of busy transfer window, with Graham Cummins departing for Shamrock Rovers last month, while veteran Mark O’Sullivan came back on board. O’Sullivan, 36, stepped back up to League of Ireland standard just six weeks after scoring the winning goal for Avondale in the FAI Intremediate Cup final.
“Marky’s a great lad to have around on the place, highly respected by everyone. Physically, he is a freak. He is in ridiculous condition. I think he’s nearly a stone lighter than he was when he was here full-time. I knew he’d give the dressing room a lift. He upsets people, but he can play as well. People should never underestimate that. He’s a good footballer. And a nightmare to play against. He’s given us everything and it’s infectious. It rubs off on other people and gets the supporters going and long may it continue.”
Elsewhere tonight, bottom side UCD host Derry City (7.45pm), while Finn Harps will look to continue their recent revival against Bohemians (8pm).