Cork City manager John Caulfield insists he’d happily swap his team’s home-based FAI Cup final preparation for Dundalk’s daunting midweek European adventure.
“Would I like to be in Zenit on Thursday playing Europa League? I certainly would,” he said yesterday. “I’ve no doubt about that because that’s another round in Europe, where you want to be.”
Dundalk embarked on their long trip to St Petersburg yesterday and will make the return journey on Friday, just 48 hours before the newly crowned league champions take on their arch-rivals City in the final glamour game of the domestic season.
But Caulfield maintains the Lilywhites schedule will confer no advantage on his team at the Aviva.
“Absolutely not. The league was won two weeks ago. They were on a hectic schedule like we were, three games a week for five or six weeks. There’s one week we went to Finn Harps and Sligo and, as everyone knows in this country, we have longer travelling than any other club.
“Dundalk are professional players and we know they’ll be at their best on Sunday, there’s no doubt about that.
“What we have to make sure on Sunday is that we’re at our best because we need to be at our best to win the match. And I think if we’re at our best, we will win the match.”
Runners-up to Dundalk in the league three seasons in a row and runners-up to them in the cup last year as well, Cork go into Sunday’s game at the Aviva boasting a record of three wins and one defeat out of four against the Lilywhites this season. But, thus far, victory in a truly decisive game against Stephen Kenny’s side has eluded Caulfield’s team.
The manager, however, points out that many of his current players have really only been on Dundalk’s case in the City colours since March of this year.
“Look at the team that started the cup final last year and the team that’ll start this year for us — there’ll be at least six changes,” he said. “We’ve scored a lot more goals, we’ve conceded less. We’re a much more dynamic team. So we’ve improved greatly — but so have they. That’s what brilliant about the league this year and the top two teams — the standard is so high. And that’s been shown in Europe. We went further than our own club has ever gone before and they’ve gone to a different level in League Of Ireland terms.
“So when you look at it from that point of view, both teams are close, but they’ve won trophies the last number of years with arguably the same squad. We did a bit of surgery at the start of this year because we realised that last year’s team was off the pace. And we’ve progressed massively. We are going forward, there’s no doubt about that. And this club is going to win trophies, there’s no doubt about that. But, at the same time, we want to start winning as soon as we can — and Sunday is a great opportunity for us.”
City have two injury worries ahead of the big game, Garry Buckley (hamstring) and Mark O’Sullivan (knee).
Said Caulfield: “Mark, I’ve known a long, long time and he’s not a guy who goes down so it is a concern he came off last Friday (against Bray) and hasn’t trained. Garry’s been out about two weeks and we’d hope to have him back training before the end of the week. Both of them are tight so we’re obviously going to wait until close to the game.”
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