Caulfield hoping Cork City will prove ‘nightmare’ to Polish champions Legia

John Caulfield

Drawing opposition as formidable as Legia Warsaw was hardly the dream date Cork City had in mind in the Champions League but, while John Caulfield is not hiding from the difficulty of the challenge thrown up by yesterday’s First Round draw in Nyon – “probably got the toughest that was there” was his initial reaction yesterday – the City manager is still hoping that his side can subject the three-in-a-row Polish champions to something of a “nightmare” in the first leg at home.

“In the tight surrounds of Turner’s Cross, with the crowd buzzing from the start, I’m hoping that can be a nightmare for them,” he told the Irish Examiner. “Obviously, as a team, we’ll need to be tuned in but, if you start right, you’ll always feel you have a chance at Turner’s Cross.

“From a playing point of view it’s one of those where you have nothing to lose because we’re probably going to be written off with the quality of the team they have.

But, at the same time, if we can get Turner’s Cross packed out and, with the crowd so close to the pitch and creating that special atmosphere, it can ruffle visiting teams. Also, we’re over halfway through our season so, from a conditioning point of view, we’re in peak fitness whereas they’re out of season and they have two players at the World Cup.

So will the City boss be rooting for Poland to get at least as far as the semis, which will clash with Legia’s visit to Cork?

“Certainly, I’ll have a lot more interest in them now,” he laughed. “But the reality is that when you get a club like that, they have so many top quality players, it might have been the case where those guys wouldn’t have been involved at this stage.”

Caulfield believes his underdogs can take encouragement from Dundalk’s experience in the Champions’ League play-off tie two years ago when, having lost the first leg 2-0 in the Aviva Stadium, a stunning Robbie Benson goal saw Stephen Kenny’s team push Legia all the way in a 1-1 draw in the second leg in the Polish Army Stadium in Warsaw.

At the Aviva, Dundalk were really stubborn, stood up to them and played really well,” said the City manager. “But Legia’s movement, pace, and just their general ability was very, very good.

“However, in the away leg Dundalk caused them all sorts of problems and probably frightened the life out of them. Robbie Benson scored that great goal and they played really well.

“That was probably the best side Dundalk have had – they had (Andy) Boyle, (Daryl) Horgan, (David) McMillan and (though a yellow card ruled him out of the second leg) a fit Stephen O’Donnell who was running the show. But, at the end of day, it just showed that in any game, if a team takes you for granted and if they don’t prepare well, and if you start the game well and have a bit of luck going for you, you can always cause a few problems.”

There was a silver lining for the Irish champions to yesterday’s proceedings at Uefa HQ in Switzerland when the luck of a separate draw saw the losers of the Cork City-Legia Warsaw Champions League game guaranteed a bye into the 3rd Round of the Europa League, a development warmly welcomed by John Caulfield.

“Absolutely. One, from a League of Ireland point of view it gives you an opportunity of a couple of weeks to play league matches without having to call them off, which is a plus.

“Two, obviously, we don’t know who the draw would put us up against but if you get into a 3rd round you’re one game from a play-off if the draw went right for you.

“We’ll have to wait and see what that throws up for us but it’s certainly a big plus – the one big plus to come out yesterday, to be honest with you.”

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