Only weeks into the new campaign, the meeting of Cork City and Shamrock Rovers at Turners Cross tonight (7.45pm) is the kind of massive game which could define both sides’ seasons.
After defeating Dundalk in the President’s Cup final, Cork boss John Caulfield stressed that it was imperative his side got off to a flyer and not let Stephen Kenny’s champions get a head start, like they did in the previous two seasons.
Rovers boss Pat Fenlon was thinking the same but both sides go into tonight’s game already seven points behind the champions.
Tonight’s rearranged fixture is their game in hand and gives both teams a chance to narrow the gap to four points, with all teams having played nine games.
Caulfield’s side won at Oriel Park last month to move level on points with Dundalk but draws in their next three games left them playing catch-up again.
However, they stopped the rot on Friday night with an easy 3-1 home win over Finn Harps and will go into tonight’s game buoyed by that performance.
With Rovers being outclassed by Dundalk in Friday’s 2-0 loss, Caulfield knows Fenlon’s side will be well up for tonight’s tussle but is not expecting them to be too attack-minded.
“There’s always an edge in Rovers and Cork games. Obviously, they fancy themselves for a go at the title this season and they’ll come down here and be very compact,” said the City boss.
“I expect them to play a very defensive game and try to hit us on the counter-attack, like they did down here last season, which Pat seems to do in away matches.
“It’s all about how we get ourselves ready, and with us being at home, hopefully we can push on and get the three points.”
New signing Kenny Browne has been impressive since signing from St Pat’s but the centre-half was sent off on Friday night and he’ll have to sit out tonight’s game.
His potential replacement — on-loan Celtic player Eoghan O’Connell — missed Friday’s game with a groin strain but Caulfield hopes he can prove his fitness for tonight.
“We’ll have to see if he can make it but the great thing for us at the moment is that we have everyone else available. We know we’re missing Kenny but at least we have strength in depth now.
“In previous years, we’ve struggled with three or four out but coming into the League Cup game last Monday and Friday night’s game, we had 20 players available, which is great.”
City’s Gearoid Morrissey grabbed his first goal since returning to the club following a stint with Cambridge United and the midfielder is expecting a tough game. “They’ll be looking to bounce back after Friday’s loss,” said Morrissey.
“I’d say they can’t wait to get back on the pitch after that but we’ll be ready for them.
“We’re a confident team and we know we have the players in the squad. Anybody could be starting against Rovers as we have great strength in depth, so hopefully we can get the result.”
Gary McCabe also received his marching orders on Friday night and he will be a big loss for Fenlon as Rovers look to bounce back from their third defeat of the season.
The last time Rovers put in that kind of disappointing shift — losing 3-0 to Derry City at the Brandywell on April 8 — they bounced back in the best possible fashion, thrashing deadly rivals Bohemians 4-0 at Dalymount next time out.
Fenlon will be looking for more of the same tonight as his wounded side look to get their title bid back on track.
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