Cork City midfielder Conor McCormack admits he still has a soft spot for Shamrock Rovers but there will be no mood for sentiment from the league leaders at Turner’s Cross tonight.
It was at Rovers Co Louth man McCormack began his League of Ireland career, after spells at Manchester United and Italian Serie B side Triestina. Having left Carlingford for Old Trafford as a teenager, then moving to Italy, McCormack became a hit at Tallaght Stadium under then Rovers boss Michael O’Neill.
“I’d a good couple of years there,” said McCormack. “I won a couple of trophies and I enjoyed my time there. There’s still people I talk to there so the reception is not too bad when I go back. That was my first year when I came back to the League of Ireland. We won the league that year and the Setanta Cup.”
Rovers became the first Irish club to reach the Europa League group stages in 2011. “It was the first time an Irish club got into European (group stages),” recalls McCormack. “We were lucky enough to have a good squad and a good manager in Michael O’Neill, and we beat some good teams to get there, like Partizan Belgrade. We were delighted.”
The Rovers squad that went on to play the likes of Spurs in the group stages included the likes of Karl Sheppard, now on a red hot streak for Cork City, Stephen O’Donnell, now captain of Dundalk, and Gary McCabe, now firing the goals in for Bray Wanderers.
When Michael O’Neill left to take the Northern Ireland job, the squad broke up. McCormack would be quite the stranger if he poked his head into the Rovers’ dressing room these days. “Ronan Finn would have been there,” says McCormack. “He’s probably the only one left. There was a big clearout the year after.”
McCormack moved across Dublin to St Pat’s and on to Derry before his move to Leeside this season, where he has become a firm favourite in his all-action midfield role.
So how does this Cork City team — 15 points clear in the Premier Division going into tonight’s round of games — compare to those 2011 Super Hoops? “It’s right up there,” says McCormack.
Cork blew Drogheda away in a sensational first-half last Friday before digging out a 2-1 win at Sligo on Monday night. McCormack missed the 5-0 win over Drogheda through suspension, where goals from Jimmy Keohane, Sean Maguire, and two from Karl Sheppard left Cork 4-0 up after 24 minutes. “To be fair it was a joy to watch, some great football and some great goals,” says McCormack.
“Shamrock Rovers always have good teams so it’ll be a different challenge.”
Rovers boss Stephen Bradley is predicting a thriller. “It’s going to be a good game. Cork are flying but we just have to play our own game and try to impose ourselves on them and see what happens,” said Bradley.
Much will depend on which Shamrock Rovers turn up, as Bradley’s men have produced excellent football in wins over the likes of Dundalk, Galway, and Bohs, but also proving huge underachievers in defeats to Bray and Derry. Mayo man Ryan Connolly is available for the Hoops after overcoming a serious foot injury which almost ended the 25-year-old’s career.
“It’s great to have Ryan back, considering weeks ago he was told he’d have to retire. That’s how serious the injury was,” says Bradley.
Cork boss John Caulfield must make calls on the fitness of Garry Buckley, Gearóid Morrissey, Steven Beattie, and Karl Sheppard tonight. “No one is definitely out and no one is definitely in,” said Caulfield. The City boss also claimed this week reports that Sean Maguire has sealed a €150,000 move to Preston are premature.
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