It’s not quite a spying mission, but when League of Ireland duties are firmly put to bed tonight, John Caulfield will be glued to the box for the Champions League final on Saturday evening.
A little piece of him might just dare to dream about going toe to toe with Jurgen Klopp or Zinedine Zidane.
After all, with plenty of workrate, flashes of inspiration, and a little — or a lot — of luck, his Cork City side could yet be playing European heavyweights Liverpool or Real Madrid next season.
“We’d have to do a lot to get to get to a draw at that level,” cautions a realistic Caulfield, whose side are much closer to home in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division this evening, facing St Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park (7.45pm).
“I’ll be watching the Champions League final. Where I live, every fella supports Liverpool. I’ll be ducking them on Sunday if they win. But they are the type of games you love. Real Madrid are a fantastic side, these guys we all love watching. People say Ronaldo is going downhill; I don’t see it yet because he gets goals.
“Then the uniqueness of Liverpool, of who they are. Klopp has done a brilliant job, they score goals for fun. The one thing is Liverpool will definitely score but on paper you would see Real as the team that are going to win it. But football isn’t won on paper so knowing Liverpool’s luck, they’ll probably win.”
The draw for the 2018/9 Champions League qualifying rounds takes place next month, mapping City’s latest European adventure — a special part of the League of Ireland experience, says Caulfield.
“We have until next month to do as much as we can in the league until the summer break and then wait for the draw to come through and we’ll all look forward to the European tie.
“So many players go through their careers and never play in it. It’s unique, a different game, a different atmosphere. They are special occasions.”
Caulfield isn’t going to allow the enchanting European dream distract him from the basics, however, starting in Inchicore tonight. City will be hoping to follow on from the impressive 2-0 win on the road at Limerick on Monday night, where two goals from Garry Buckley kept up the pressure on Dundalk.
The win was achieved without injured captain Conor McCormack — who could return tonight — and Caulfield had special words of praise for Jimmy Keohane and Barry McNamee in the centre of midfield in his absence. Caulfield was also glad to see Steven Beattie putting in a shift on the right wing, instead of at right-back.
“In attacking areas we think we can create more chances. We think there’s more goals in the team and it was great to see Beats back because he was injured but he has had an impact. Similarly Karl Sheppard had a few knocks and has a clean bill of health again. We need those guys because they are game-changers.”
Liam Buckley’s Saints saw a run of four wins come to a shuddering halt in a 3-0 midweek derby defeat to Shamrock Rovers. They will give late fitness tests to Owen Garvan, Killian Brennan, and Dean Clarke.
“Against Cork this season we’ve been edged out by a goal on two occasions so we’ve competed well with them, but just lacked that killer instinct or made a small error at a crucial time,” said Liam Buckley.
Across Dublin, at Dalymount Park, two Ireland call-ups will return to club action, with Bohemians goalkeeper Shane Supple and Rovers attacker Graham Burke back for tonight’s derby.
Captain Derek Pender could return from injury for Bohs. Boss Keith Long said: “Derek’s in the squad. It’s great to have him back as he is a leader and a quality player.”
Stephen Bradley will be hoping Rovers can continue the form which saw them demolish St Pat’s on Monday night. “We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing the last few weeks. We need to bring that again. If we do I think we’ll be fine.”
After scoring his first league goal for table-toppers Dundalk on Monday, Marco Tagbajumi is hoping to build on that when the Lilywhites host bottom side Bray Wanderers.
“I have been here three months and to get my first in the league is great for me,” he told the club’s website.
Waterford will be hoping to revive their title challenge as they host Derry City this evening. Waterford lost 2-0 at Dundalk on Monday. The Blues have doubts over Paul Keegan and Gavan Holohan.
There’s a big game in the Showgrounds this evening as Sligo Rovers host Limerick in the fight against relegation.
“We don’t dress it up as just another game, it’s massive in the battle for points in the position we are,” said Sligo boss Gerard Lyttle.
All Premier Division games kick off at 7.45pm.
In the First Division, Athlone host Longford, Cabinteely meet UCD, Cobh Ramblers host Shelbourne, Galway United meet Drogheda (all 7.45pm), while Wexford meet Finn Harps (8pm).
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