Cork City boss John Caulfield believes his Cork City champions brought the League of Ireland “to another level” with the standard of their performances in winning the title this season.
Another sellout crowd at Turner’s Cross tonight (7.45pm) will see City receive the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division trophy, as they welcome Bray Wanderers to Leeside.
The positive vibes continued last night as it was revealed midfield enforcer Conor McCormack has signed a new two-year deal at the club. “I am delighted with the way the season has gone; we have wrapped up the league and we still have a cup final to look forward to,” said McCormack. “I couldn’t have hoped for a better first season, so am delighted to sign for another two years.”
Caulfield said: “Conor has been a revelation since he signed. Maybe people didn’t realise what a fantastic player he is when he signed, but throughout the season he has been phenomenal.”
It’s been a season to remember at Turner’s Cross, with the club’s third title secured after a sensational start left their rivals chasing shadows.
City struggled to get over the line in the final third of the season as they felt the absence of striker Seanie Maguire, now an Irish international, but Caulfield isn’t bothered by detractors who branded the club a one-man team.
“I don’t care. Genuinely, I’ve a brilliant management team, it doesn’t matter if people are slagging you. What can you do? I know how difficult it is to win a league,” says Caulfield, who will be without the suspended Ryan Delaney and Greg Bolger tonight.
“We’ve won, we had 64 out of 66 points after 22 games and after a small bit of a rocky run we still won with two games to go. We went to another level this year and brought the whole league to another level.
“The league is what you’re judged on. The league is set on 33 games, we’ve it won after 31. We’d a goalscorer that set a record that probably no one else will match, 20 goals after two-thirds of the season. and if that had materialised, we could have broken all records.
“These boys don’t have to justify anything, the record shows what they’ve done. We won 12 in a row, drew one, and then won another nine. We hung on in adversity when we lost two key men.
“Everyone was getting frustrated, we were three minutes from the title three weeks ago (when Dundalk secured a 1-1 draw at Turner’s Cross), the supporters were frustrated because they wanted us to win. That’s no different than me if I was in the stand, watching the club — which I was for 10 years.
“Maybe from the outside the club may not be popular and I may not be but I only care about keeping the club at the top and winning trophies.”
Winning trophies: Amid all the euphoria and party atmosphere at the Cross as the club host Bray Wanderers tonight, the FAI Cup final on November 5 won’t be far from the manager’s mind.
City are holders and chasing a double. Dundalk were denied a double by Maguire’s last minute extra-time goal at the Aviva Stadium last season, and Stephen Kenny’s men will be gunning for revenge, having lost a Premier Division crown that was becoming part of the furniture at Oriel Park.
“The cup final for us is a bonus,” said Caulfield. “The league was our aim, our goal. The cup now is another opportunity. It will be a great day out and we won’t be found wanting.”
The Aviva showpiece could also be a farewell to City for some of the club’s stars. McCormack and Gearoid Morrissey’s decisions to sign new deals this week have provided a boost to the club but the futures of starters such as Karl Sheppard, Greg Bolger, and Stephen Dooley remain unclear, while Ryan Delaney will go back to Burton Albion as his loan deal ends.
One man keen to stay is Jimmy Keohane, who has featured as a defender, midfielder, and even a striker this year for the Leesiders.
“When I signed for Cork, I always knew I was going to be challenging for a league title,” said the Wexford man. “I’ve really enjoyed my year, I like it down here, hopefully we can get something sorted and I’m looking forward to what comes next year.”
Keohane says tonight is an important game: “We want to go out on a high and carry a bit of momentum going into the cup final. That could be key so it’s a good game to get things right and end the season on a high. It will be my first time playing at the Aviva and I’m really looking forward to it.
“We just want the fans proud. We know how important it is to the city and we just want to create history.”
City made eight changes last Friday in the 4-2 defeat to St Patrick’s Athletic and are likely to reshuffle again.
For Bray, Ryan Brennan, Keith Buckley, and Conor Kenna are all suspended for a game which will be Harry Kenny’s last in charge of the Seagulls. A season that promised so much turned sour amid massive financial problems and a Garda betting investigation.
Caulfield said: “I am sure they will be keen to send Harry off with a win, considering the effort and the input he has had there.”
Meanwhile, the one remaining issue in the league season will be settled at close of play tonight when either Galway United, St Patrick’s Athletic, or Sligo Rovers will join already relegated Finn Harps and Drogheda United in the First Division for next year.
The bulk of the pressure is on Galway United for whom nothing less than a win against Dundalk at Eamonn Deacy Park (live on RTÉ2) will do — and even then they need either Pat’s or Sligo to lose.
“There is no doubt, we need a lot to go for us,” admits manager Shane Keegan. “First and foremost, we need to overcome the form team in the country. That is the only thing we have control over. If we can do that, stranger things have happened.”
In the final night’s other top flight matches, Bohemians host Finn Harps at Dalymount Park, and Shamrock Rovers welcome Limerick to Tallaght. All games kick off at 7.45pm.
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