Liam Mackey looks ahead to the President’s Cup final and the ’New Firm’ rivalry between Dundalk and Cork City.
It’s fair to say that Mark McNulty’s homecoming victory speech after the FAI Cup final in November went down pretty well in Cork, the fired-up keeper telling the faithful in the SoHo Bar: “There wasn’t one fucking pundit in this country that gave us a chance. Everyone’s saying ‘Dundalk this, Dundalk that, they’re doing well in Europe’. We went three fucking rounds in Europe! There’s no-one saying anything about fucking Cork!”
The uproarious acclamation with which McNulty’s words were received, not only by the supporters present but by his team-mates gathered around him, suggested that if there was one thing that meant almost as much to Cork City as winning the cup, it was doing so at the expense of their biggest rivals, the team which has consigned them to second place in the league for three seasons on the trot.
But how did McNulty’s epic oration, widely disseminated on YouTube, play in Dundalk?
“Yeah, we had a laugh,” grins centre-half Brian Gartland. “There were also a few phone calls on the bus to Stevie O’Donnell after the cup final, with Cork accents, asking what score it was? We just laugh at things like that and get on with it. If they want to obsess with us, that’s grand. We look to our next game and that’s it.”
Actually, Gartland is firmly of the opinion that the emergence of the ‘New Firm’ of Dundalk and Cork over recent seasons represents nothing but good news for the domestic game.
“I was reading an article by Alan Bennett,” he relates, “and he was saying that when he played in the league before going over to England, Cork had a great rivalry with Shels and Derry, but he said it was nothing compared to the rivalry they have with us. Every league needs something like that. You need something to draw in fans and you guys in the media need something to write about and for sparks to fly. If you don’t have that, you don’t have entertainment.”
As the last season ended, so does the new one begin, with the Rebels and the Lilywhites renewing old acquaintance in the President’s Cup at Turner’s Cross tonight.
“There is a vast difference in intensity between friendlies and league games and this is great at bridging the gap,” says Gartland of the ceremonial curtainraiser before the 2017 league kicks off in a week’s time.
“Having said that, because there is a great rivalry between ourselves and Cork, they don’t want to see us lifting the trophy down there, even if it doesn’t mean much. And we don’t want to be watching them lift something up and letting them think they have the upper hand.
“I’d say there could be a good intensity to it and a good bit of bite to it. Listen, at the end of the season if you look back and you’ve got the league, the President’s Cup doesn’t mean too much. But it can set a tone for the season to come. And it gave us a kick up the arse last year (when City won 2-0).”
On the face of it, the champions have even more questions to answer this season following the exit of key men Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle, and Ronan Finn. City too have rung the changes, though manager John Caulfield will be pleased that he has retained his starting XI from last year’s cup triumph.
But the ins and outs at both clubs certainly add another level of intrigue to tonight’s aperitif.
“It will be a great opportunity for our new players to line out in Turner’s Cross for the first time and a first opportunity for many of our supporters to see those new players in action,” says Caulfield.
On the injury front, City club captain Johnny Dunleavy has returned to training after his lengthy lay-off but is not yet back in contention, while there are doubts about the availability of Alan Bennett. Also absent for Cork will be Kenny Browne who appears to have played his last game for the club, with the defender now expected to sign for Waterford.
Dundalk will be without Gary Rogers, David McMillan, Chris Shields, and new signing Jamie McGrath.
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