If Cork City’s Kevin O’Connor needs any extra incentive to give his all in Sunday’s FAI Cup final sequel against Dundalk, he only has to think back to Aviva Stadium last year and the moment when he knew the dream was over for 2016.
“It’s the final whistle,” the full back says, shaking his head. “Everything you worked so hard for is gone. Once the goal went in, even though it was a setback, you felt all we needed was one chance to get back into it. We got a couple of chances. We hit the bar. We just couldn’t get the ball over the line. Once the final whistle goes, it just kicks in. Watching them going up to get their medals and the trophy, that’s the heartbreaking moment.
“John (Caulfield) said in the dressing room that we’d be back again in a year, and we are. We want to go one step further than last year. The commitment this year has been frightening and, if anyone deserves it, this bunch of lads does.”
While the Curracloe native is one of those City players about to go back to the well for a second time in 12 months, the team as a whole has undergone radical changes in the same period, the new faces raising confidence that they can go one step better.
“Last year, we didn’t have the second striker option,” he points out. “Seanie (Maguire) has come in and given us that option. Stephen Dooley has come in and been phenomenal on the left wing. Kenny Browne and Greg Bolger have bedded in, Gearoid Morrissey has come back. The lads like to get the ball down, move it and play it around. But we can do the dirty work too, which you have to do to earn the right to play.”
The former Waterford United man believes that imposing that physical part of their game plan on Dundalk could set the tone on Sunday, just as it did in the two league games against the Lilywhites in which City prevailed this season.
“The first 10 minutes are crucial. First two games this year, we came at them with an intensity they couldn’t match, and they were a bit shell-shocked at how good we were. We went up there (Oriel), we got into them from the start, had them rattled.
“They’re the benchmark,” he says of Dundalk. “Last year, they steamrolled the league and we had no complaints.
“This year because of European games they slipped up one or twice and we had opportunities to put them under serious pressure but we didn’t take them. But Sunday is a once-off game.”
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