Cork City defender Johnny Dunleavy is closing on a return to action and is expected to be back in full training with the club in the next fortnight.
The 26-year-old Donegal man has been out of action since suffering a cruciate ligament injury in June 2017 — the latest in a run of serious injuries which have dogged his career on Leeside.
Dunleavy has been undergoing his own strength-building sessions as he recovers from the latest setback, and it is hoped he will soon return to contact sessions.
City manager John Caulfield says the former club captain, now in his seventh season on Leeside, should take his place in the playing squad next month.
“It’s a difficult one because he is still not in with us — he’s training but he’s still not part of the squad in terms of playing ball,” said Caulfield.
“While we knew from the start of the season Johnny was enthusiastic to get back as quick as he could — and he thought himself he would be back sooner — right from the start of the season, our physios said they felt probably mid-April was more realistic. That’s what we’re looking at.
“We’d certainly hope that in the next two weeks, he would come back into training with us, and then we’ll see.”
Caulfield still expects to see the popular Ballybofey man to play a big part for the champions when the title race enters a crucial stage.
“The big difference this year is that up to the break in June, we’ll have played 22 league matches — that’s quite a lot, two-thirds of the league played by the break.
“Between May and June, we’ve about 11 matches. If we get him back mid-April, once he’s available in May, we’d be quite happy with that.”
Out of league action since a bank holiday win over Bohemians on March 19, Caulfield’s charges now face into a busy period on the road, beginning on Friday night when they face Bray Wanderers at the Carlisle Grounds.
With no league match last Friday, City took the opportunity to play the Munster Senior Cup final against St Mary’s, retaining the provincial crown with a 5-0 win against the Kilcully-based Munster Senior League side.
The Munster Senior Cup gave a chance for Caulfield to give game time to other members of his squad, with Josh O’Hanlon and Tobi Adebayo-Rowling among those on the scoresheet, while keeper Peter Cherrie, Colm Horgan, and Michael Howard also got the opportunity to clock up valuable game time.
“Now that we’ve won it and retained it, which we are delighted to do, I think it shows the guys on the edge are doing really well and they can step right in,” said Caulfield.
“We are the professional club in Cork and the number one club in Munster, you need to show that domination so we respect that competition.”
The mention of “number one club in Munster” will have pricked up ears in the south-east, where Waterford have made an impressive start to life in the Premier Division. City face Waterford on Monday in the EA Sports Cup and another trip to Blues in the league on the following Friday, with Waterford sitting alongside unbeaten Dundalk, just a point behind Cork.
Waterford yesterday confirmed the EA Sports Cup second round match on Easter Monday will kick off at 3pm.
Elsewhere Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers will be aiming to equal Alan O’Neill’s club record for clean sheets as the Lilywhites host Bohemians on Friday night.
“We’re well aware we have seven clean sheets in a row, there’s been plenty of talk about it but we just look forward to the Bohs game and hopefully we can keep one clean sheet in that game,” Rogers told Dundalk FC TV. “Hopefully we can add that to a win.”
Meanwhile in the EA Sports Cup first round last night, goals from Timmy Molloy and Yousef Mahdy gave UCD a 2-1 win over Athlone Town at Lissywollen. UCD now face Bohs.
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