UnCorked: John Caulfield’s best of the rest

Cork City legend JOHN CAULFIELD looks beyond Turner’s Cross to select a stellar XI, plus gaffer, from the very best he has encountered as a player and manager in the League of Ireland. Referee: LIAM MACKEY
UnCorked: John Caulfield’s best of the rest

Cork City legend JOHN CAULFIELD looks beyond Turner’s Cross to select a stellar XI, plus gaffer, from the very best he has encountered as a player and manager in the League of Ireland. Referee: LIAM MACKEY

Out of the goodness of our hearts, we decided to make what John Caulfield calls “an impossible task” just that bit more possible by eliminating Cork City — and even Cork City-connected — players from his deliberations, as we tasked him with the job of picking a team comprised of the best of the rest (plus a gaffer), from his years as a keen observer and hugely successful player and manager in the League of Ireland.

Sidelining the Rebels altogether meant he didn’t have to contend with the heartbreak of being asked to do the football equivalent of choosing a favourite child. (And it also, of course, eliminated any possibility — however remote, we hasten to add — of civil war breaking out on Leeside as a result of who was deemed worthy and who was not).

However, the restriction did throw up a couple of anomalies. For example, John notes that, as Shamrock Rovers players, Dan Murray and Danny Murphy would have been in the running for spots in his defence but, with both having famously helped City win the title in 2005, they were ineligible for inclusion in this line-up.

Similarly, as will be revealed below, a player he regards as one of the domestic game’s best ever, fails to make the cut on the grounds of having managed City at one point in his career.

And then there’s the case of the man who needs no second name.

“The other fellow I didn’t put in, even though he didn’t play for Cork, was Roy,” says Caulfield. “Having played for Cobh, he would have to be in any team of the best League of Ireland players but, of course, most of his career was spent in England and, for this side, I wanted to pick lads who’d played most if not all of their football here.”

Opting for a 4-4-2 line-up, John reckons his team is based on a top goalkeeper and a “solid back four” in front of which an emphasis on creative personnel, I think it’s fair to say, more than lives up to his conviction that this is a side which would be “committed to enterprising, attacking play.”

Team sheet at the ready…

Goalkeeper: Gary Rogers (Dundalk, Sligo Rovers etc)

“A lot of contenders here but when I weighed it up, I boiled it down to a final choice between Gary Rogers and Dermot O’Neill. Both outstanding goalkeepers but based on his quality, consistency, and longevity — he’s still in the limelight and, before his success with Dundalk, he’d won a league and cup with Sligo — I gave the nod to Gary Rogers.”

Right-back: Owen Heary (Bohemians,Shelbourne etc)

“A tricky one this, with so many options, including Pascal Vaudequin, Curtis Fleming, and Alan Keane. But, realistically, the two in contention for me in the end were Trevor Croly and Owen Heary. And I went for Owen. He played so many games in the league, was a consistently good defender, always up and down the line, and he was a good crosser too. A great attitude also.”

Centre-half: Mick Neville (Shamrock Roves, Derry City, Shelbourne etc)

“This was one of the easiest picks: Number one, straight away: Mick Neville. Mick was just one of those guys. Played for all the top clubs and won numerous medals. A tremendous reader of the game, an excellent defender, and very good on the ball as well.

There was no way you could leave him out of a team like this.

Centre-half: Brian Gartland (Dundalk, Portadown, Monaghan United etc)

“This was one of the hardest decisions. Over the years there’ve been a lot of standout centre-backs, like Damien Byrne, Ken Oman, and Jason McGuinness but I ended up with a choice between Colin Hawkins and Brian Gartland. And I went with Gartland partly because of where he came from, stepping up from smaller clubs to do what he did with Dundalk. He really was the commander, I would say, of that Dundalk back four. And not only was he a great leader but he could also play a bit.”

Left-back: Tommy Lynch (Limerick, Waterford United etc)

“I had Pat Kelch and Enda Stevens — who has obviously gone on to play at the highest level — on the shortlist but, in the end, the one I went for was Tommy Lynch, (pictured). Playing for Limerick and Waterford, he was really aggressive, had an excellent left foot, was a great crosser of the ball and was also really strong in the air in set-pieces. Probably a bit of an unsung hero but when I played, he was a fearsome opponent.

You didn’t mess with him!

Right-wing: Paddy McCourt (Derry City, Shamrock Rovers, Finn Harps etc)

“No hesitation here. It has to be Paddy McCourt. There were other fellows you might think of in that position, like Daryl Horgan — who could play on the right or the left — but Paddy is the absolute stand-out. His ability on the ball was sensational. He was just a genius.”

Centre-midfield: Joseph Ndo (Sligo Rovers, Shelbourne etc)

“Again an obvious one. Joey Ndo. Another genius player. And everywhere he went he was successful. Whatever about winning leagues with Shels with their resources at the time, he also went to Sligo and was instrumental there in helping them win the league as well.

So for me, one of the standout choices by far.

Centre-midfield: Eddie Gormley (St Patrick’s Athletic, Bray Wanderers etc)

“This was another tricky one, when you think of great midfielders like Kevin Hunt, Pat Fenlon, Martin Russell, Richie Towell, and Paul Doolin. Actually, Doolin was probably one of the best players we ever had in Ireland, but because he managed Cork I had to delete him from this team! In the end, I went for Eddie Gormley. There was a period of five or six years with Pat’s when he was just the kingpin.”

Left-wing: Terry Eviston (Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk etc)

“You’d definitely have Daryl Horgan and Mark Rutherford in the running here but I went further back than them and chose Terry Eviston. He could play out on the left, he could play centre-forward. Very skilful, could make goals and score goals — a really intelligent footballer.

Always a player I liked even though he always caused us problems!

Striker: Liam Coyle (Derry City etc)

“Liam Coyle was always going to be my number one striker. In my opinion, he was simply the best forward player in my time in Ireland. Even after that terrible injury when he was told he would never play again, he came back with a big bandage on his knee and was still brilliant. An exceptional player.”

Striker: Stephen Geoghegan (Shelbourne, Shamrock Rovers etc)

“Again, a lot of great contenders for the second forward spot: The likes of Trevor Molloy, Jason Byrne, Glen Crowe, Gary Twigg. But I gave the nod to Stephen Geoghegan. And him over Gary Twigg because, while Twigg was a poacher, Geoghegan had a bit of everything about him.

There was a period in the 90s when he was just phenomenal.

Manager: Turlough O’Connor (Bohemians, Dundalk, Athlone Town etc)

“I obviously thought of all the hugely successful managers of big clubs in the League of Ireland in my time but I ended up choosing between Brian Kerr and Turlough O’Connor in part because of what they achieved with unfashionable clubs: Brian putting his heart into Pat’s and Turlough turning water into wine by winning two titles with Athlone.

As someone who went to games in St Mel’s and made my debut for the club, maybe it was my Athlone bias coming out — but I went for Turlough O’Connor.

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