John Caulfield believes it’s less likely his Cork City team would have won the league this year if they hadn’t finished last season by winning the FAI Cup and finally getting the upper hand in their great rivalry with Dundalk.
“Absolutely, and for a number of reasons,” says the City manager as the two clubs prepare to go head to head for the third year in a row at the Aviva tomorrow afternoon.
“The cup win was significant because while, on the inside, I’ve got phenomenal support from the supporters all the way through, from the outside a lot of people were trying to say that if the team didn’t win the cup last year maybe there should be a change of management. Which is nasty but, at the same time, that’s the way it is nowadays. It’s difficult.
“So there’s no doubt winning last year did a few things. It showed the management that we were on the right track. Not that we weren’t but it gives you that little boost of extra confidence.
“But it also helps the players because ultimately all your training and all the work you do is geared towards winning trophies. Winning silverware definitely takes a bit of the monkey off the back. You can see that in other sports, teams that can’t get over the line and how it affects them.
“Ultimately, it probably was also very influential in Seanie Maguire staying on when he could have left after the cup final. The way it went for him, the joy and huge emotions back in the city in the days afterwards, probably helped for him to stay longer.”
Maguire, who scored last year’s winner, along with his Preston team-mate Kevin O’Connor, will be back at the Aviva today but this time holding a strictly watching brief as the team they helped win the league goes in search of an historic double for the club.
For Caulfield, securing that league title puts today’s game in a very different context to last year’s decider.
“Are we under the pressure and the headlines that we were last year? Not at all,” he says. “Because we’ve already won the league and qualified for the Champions League and that’s what we wanted.
"And we’ve got to the cup final which is a fantastic competition, the competition we won last year. Of course we want to do the double but, at the end of the day, from the start of the year it was never about the double, it was about the league title. So it has changed the whole outside influence.
“But don’t get me wrong, everyone travelling up from Cork will want to win the cup and do the double. And if we don’t win, no doubt we’ll take a bit of stick over that. But, yeah, I suppose winning the league has stabilised the fact that people can see that things are being done right.
“If there was a bit of negativity on the outside, I always feel that when you walk into Turner’s Cross every week — our average crowd this year was 4,700 — and they’re supporting you, you’re not in a bad place then.
“No matter what’s being said on the outside, these people are still coming through the door and they think you’re doing the right thing.
“There are no agendas in our club because all the people involved in the management have all been with the club. Everyone knows where we’re from, they trust what we’re doing is right and when you walk out in front of that crowd, you know you’re not too far off.”
The bigger picture in all this for Caulfield is to cement the club’s success and maximise its profile in a city hungry for sporting success and not too often short on options.
“We have become the poor relations of sport down here because we have gone through the high of the Celtic Tiger team of 2005 down to liqudation,” he reflects. “I have said to the players that we have to get back to where we were and be seen to be the top team around the city and county. We have to earn our own right to get back there.
“If you wrote seven years ago that 1,700 people would turn up to a family day here they would say you’re bonkers. But that’s what you’ll get if you’re in the (Gaelic) football final or the hurling final. Now the public have rowed in behind us.
“Ultimately, Cork soccer is back where we need it to be at the top in Cork sport, showing we’re serious people, a serious club winning trophies. And we want to stay up there.”
City, who should be at full-strength apart from long-term absentee Johnny Dunleavy, go into this latest meeting of Ireland’s ‘New Firm’ not only having already dethroned Dundalk as champions but with an unbeaten record against the Lilywhites this season, taking seven points from nine in their meetings in the league and beating them in the President’s Cup.
There have been some wild and whirling words in the run-up to the final game of the domestic season but, as if renewal of an intense rivalry was not enough to be going on with, there’s the added incentive for Cork City tomorrow of a chance for their men’s and women’s team to pull off an FAI Cup double at the Aviva.
“I would urge our supporters to get into the stadium early, get behind the women’s team in their cup final, and then create that wonderful atmosphere that they have done all season,” says Caulfield.
“They have been our 12th man all year and I am asking them to get right behind us and drive the lads on again, as they have done all season.”
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