Cork City boss John Caulfield believes playing on all-weather pitches has given title rivals Dundalk a distinct advantage and expects Derry City to reap the rewards this year too.
The Leesiders travel to the redeveloped Brandywell tomorrow night for their first meeting of the season with the Candystripes, with Derry’s March trip to Turner’s Cross postponed due to international call-ups.
It will be Cork’s first time playing on the new all-weather surface at the Brandywell. Caulfield says the surface requires “a totally different game”, and went further, saying playing regularly on an artificial surface has contributed to Dundalk’s era of success.
“Obviously any manager who has a team that plays on an all-weather pitch wll try and play it down and say it’s not an advantage but let’s call a spade a spade: up to this year every pitch in the country was grass and one club had an all-weather pitch. Has it been an advantage? Of course it has,” said Caulfield.
Caulfield’s comments on the Oriel Park surface won’t go unnoticed by Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny, who was scathing of the Turner’s Cross surface in the aftermath of Dundalk’s 1-0 defeat to Cork last month, saying “it’s very hard when you are under pressure and the pitch is as poor as it is”.
Those comments prompted RTÉ’s Soccer Republic analyst — and former Drogheda United and Dundalk striker — Declan ‘Fabio’ O’Brien to dub Oriel Park the “bouncy castle”.
Caulfield continued: “Derry have made use of the Brandywell in the right way, it’s all-weather, that’s part and parcel of the way the game is going at the moment. Maybe in 10 years’ time, they’ll all be banned again but that’s just the way. They have to make use of it and they are. Derry’s home form is fantastic. They are still a very good team and we have to deal with that.
“We’ve trained on all weather to get used to the bounce of the ball. It’s great that Derry are gone back to the Brandywell. I always loved going there and I always felt that Derry and Cork were similar in lots of ways. It’s just disappointing it’s an all-weather pitch. No matter what people say, it’s a totally different game on all-weather than it is to grass, and that will never change.”
League leaders Cork trained on an all-weather surface yesterday and on Tuesday in preparation for the trip to the Brandywell. Whatever about the surface, there is no arguing about the quality of the Candystripes side, who have serious title aspirations. Derry sit eight points behind leaders Cork but have a game in hand.
Kenny Shiels’ Derry side are unbeaten at home since their return to the Brandywell, winning all of their SSE Airtricity League home games before last month’s 0-0 draw with Shamrock Rovers, and they put seven past Shelbourne in a 7-3 EA Sports Cup quarter-final win on Monday.
Ronan Curtis scored a hat-trick in that game and the Ireland U21 star has been linked with a move to English League One side Portsmouth in the transfer window.
Cork City are making the near six-hour journey to Foyleside today in preparation for tomorrow night’s game. Left-back Shane Griffin is close to a return for the champions while Gearoid Morrissey will also travel. Johnny Dunleavy is continuing his return to fitness but will not feature.
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