Cork City boss John Caulfield may have to plan without Karl Sheppard for a “couple of weeks” as the player deals with a troubling knee injury.
City go into battle tonight at Eamonn Deacy Park in Galway chasing a 13th league win in a row, as they sit a commanding 14 points clear at the top of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division.
Sheppard has been one of the many success stories for the Leesiders this season, the Dubliner clicking into a rich vein of form which has seen him score crucial goals and saw him nominated for last month’s player of the month award.
Sheppard began his League of Ireland career at Galway United but it is unlikely he will be troubling his old side tonight, however, due to a knee injury that has has been “managed” by the club over a prolonged period.
“Karl is seeing a specialist, we think he may not make it, he has an issue,” said Caulfield.
“He’s had a knock for a while and missed a bit of last season but generally he’s available for all the games. You just have to manage the injuries. So do we think it’s serious? We don’t think it’s serious enough that he’ll be out for a long time but if he is out for a couple of weeks, that may happen.
“Football is funny: Take a player like Alan Bennett, if you x-ray a guy like him, you’d never sign the player, doctors would say he’s banjacksed. But he plays nearly every week.”
Ironically Bennett is unlikely to be risked tonight either, as he continues his rehabilitation after a hamstring injury picked up against St Patrick’s Athletic.
Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be affected by the feelgood factor enveloping the Turner’s Cross outfit at the moment. They are steadily closing on the record set by the Bohemians side of 1923-24 when they won their opening 15 games on their way to the title.
Talk of records is quickly dismissed by players and staff alike, however, player of the month Conor McCormack the latest to brush off talk of unbeaten runs.
What is clear is that finding goals hasn’t been an issue this season. City clocked their biggest win of the season by putting five goals past Finn Harps last week but Caulfield is expecting nothing easy tonight. Shane Keegan’s Galway side have found their steel after a rocky start to the season, beating champions Dundalk 2-1 two weeks ago, while a goalless draw against Derry on Monday night — their first clean sheet of the season — took them off the bottom.
“They were much more attacking in the first four or five weeks of the season, they certainly have gone more defensive,” says Caulfield.
“It’s a bit different to when we played them early in the season, when they were a bit gung-ho. They lost four games all season but lost three of the first four. They seem to be playing on the counter attack now after a slow start and they’ve got things going.
“They’ve goals in their team so we’re aware of what’s in front of us.”
Galway centre-half Lee Grace confirms the club will be a much tougher prospect tonight than earlier this season, when Cork put four past them at Turner’s Cross. “The last time we played Cork was not a good reflection of where we’re at,” Grace said. “Since then we’ve put a good few games together and are unbeaten in seven.
“We could be the first team to knock them off their perch. We’re looking for a win but we’d take a draw to be the first to take points off them this year.”
Striker Vinny Faherty is sidelined with a foot injury but manager Keegan is confident of an upset. “We’re proving to be one of the most difficult teams to beat in the league over the last couple of months.
“Cork City have beaten everyone but we think we have the weapons to cause them a few problems.”
Meanwhile, Cork have no plans to replace Christian Nanetti, the Italian winger released by mutual consent last week, as Caulfield looks to recruit from within. “That’s our plan. It was never really about replacing Christian. We gave him a trial for a couple of months but I want to promote from our underage.
“Last week against St Pat’s (in the EA Sports Cup) Alec Byrne played, Conor McCarthy played, he’s doing his Leaving. We’ve a couple of lads we want to bring in to full-time training when they’ve got their Leaving done.
“The gap between U19 and first team is an absolutely massive step, and not too many will come through. You bring them in to show them the level and there are a few you think will go to the higher level. The more we can bring through, the better.”
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