Reaching the League of Ireland summit is one thing, staying there another.
Cork City will know just hard that is in 2018 when they look to back up the first double in the club’s history and the question as John Caulfield’s players celebrate Sunday’s FAI Cup defeat of Dundalk is how many of them will be there come the new campaign.
Karl Sheppard seems destined for a move to Dundalk and Greg Bolger is among a handful of others who seems to have the option of continuing their careers elsewhere, but Garry Buckley is confident in the club’s ability to cope regardless of comings and goings.
“Any player in the country, if you asked them, why wouldn’t they want to play for Cork? We’re double champions, unbelievable support again on Sunday night and in Turner’s Cross every week. Why wouldn’t you want to play for Cork? John doesn’t need to sell the club.
“So from that point of view we’ll have no problem if players leave. Players will probably leave, they’re not happy not playing and things like that. So others will come in and John will have no problem getting players in. They just have to buy into our attitude.
“If they have that, we’ll have no problem again next year.”
Cork have already demonstrated an admirable consistency by chasing a Dundalk side that had bagged a three-in-a-row of league titles and then overtaking them. It has been tetchy at times, but there is no doubt that the rivalry has helped both parties.
Buckley readily admits that neither club would have likely achieved as much without the other to prod them on. A Cork City supporter as a child, he can’t ever remember a time when his club has been umbilically attached to another in quite the same manner.
“I know Cork and Shels had a bit of a rivalry but the longevity of this, it’s going on four or five years,” he said. “The best teams in the country have contested the last three FAI Cup finals, the last four leagues.
“So It’s a big rivalry but there’s a respect there too. We’re two good teams and I’ve no doubt that Dundalk will be back challenging next year. We knocked them off their perch and now they’ll want to do that to us.”
Whatever happens next, this year will be forever sweet.
Buckley was in the stands in the old Lansdowne Road when Cork were deprived of what would have been a first double by Drogheda United in the 2005 FAI Cup decider so it’s no surprise that Sunday gone stands as the best day of his career to date.
A local kid and product of the club’s youth system, he was only 12 the last time City claimed a league title but this year’s experiences have struck a chord with all the players regardless of their back stories.
Conor McCormack is a Louth native who stood on the Oriel Park terraces but he was among the more emotional members of the group in the Aviva Stadium dressing room after Dundalk were pipped after extra-time and a penalty shootout.
Wexford’s Ryan Delaney only arrived on Leeside from Burton Albion on loan in January and, after extending his six-month stint during the summer, is due back at the Pirelli Stadium now the Irish season is complete.
He was another to show the depth of his feelings.
Winning a double takes all sorts of strands.
For every local boy like Buckley or goalkeeper Mark McNulty there is an Achille Campion who arrived via France, US college football, England, and Sligo.
Or a Kieran Sadlier whose winning penalty vindicated his own switch from the Bit O’Red.
“Listen, we’re a squad, we’ve an unbelievable squad there,” said Buckley. “Anybody on our squad can start. It paid dividends. The boys that came on really got into the game. Achille, I’m delighted for him. He’s got a goal.
“He’s had a tough season. He hasn’t played that many games. Sads has been doing it all season and he tucked away the penalty. Of course Nults (McNulty) as well is the hero, saving the penalty. So we’re happy.”
Another chapter awaits.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved
Receive our lunchtime briefing straight to your inbox