Pressure on Dundalk to deliver

When the FAI brought in ‘summer football’ to the League of Ireland, it wasn’t in the script for the season to be over by autumn. Still, with Cork City 15 points clear going into tonight’s latest meeting of the League of Ireland’s ‘New Firm’, that’s a scenario which could arise unless Dundalk can put a stop to Cork’s march at Oriel Park.

The League of Ireland reaches its mid-season break this evening with Stephen Kenny’s men desperately needing a victory tonight to keep alive their hopes of winning a fourth title in a row. For his part, Cork manager John Caulfield won’t be getting carried away, or working out the permutations just yet.

“I’m the manager here. All my focus is on my club, our own business. It’s immaterial about any other club,” said Caulfield. “I don’t think about the league table. I’m around so long. You have to keep driving on, you have to avail of the opportunity. The lads have had a phenomenal start and deserve tremendous credit for what they’ve done but we’re only halfway there. There’s a long long way to go and there’s a serious amount of games in July and August. There’ll be twists and turns and points dropped.”

Caulfield’s unbeaten side have kept their “one game at a time” mantra going as they have dropped just two points all season but the manager rejects suggestions that a draw will be a good result for the runaway league leaders.

“We’re going to Dundalk to win the match,” said Caulfield. “That’s all we’re focused on. If you’re one down and score in the last minute, you might be happy, but our focus is going there to win.

“It’s a very difficult game. Our run has been superb so we go into the game with confidence but we’re going to have to put in a superb performance.”

With the transfer deadline looming large, City have done well to keep concentration on matters on the pitch. Striker Sean Maguire has been heavily linked with a €150,000 move to Preston in the English Championship, while Caulfield says talks are ongoing on the future of centre-back Ryan Delaney, on loan at Turner’s Cross from Nigel Clough’s Championship side Burton Albion.

Delaney stepped into the breach left by the departure of defender Kenny Browne to Waterford on the eve of the season. Delaney’s loan deal expires after tonight’s game, and City have been in talks to try hammer out a deal to keep him on Leeside permanently or until the end of the season.

Delaney’s agent, former Ireland international Stephen Hunt, was an interested spectator as City beat Shamrock Rovers 4-1 at Turner’s Cross last Friday night, with Delaney scoring twice. “Ryan has pretty much been a mainstay in the Cork team since he has come and it was exactly what he needed — to play games — as he didn’t get any game time at Burton,” says Hunt.

“It’s a big game (against Dundalk) and we’ll hopefully let him concentrate on that and see where to go after that. Either way, Ryan’s in a good position. If he goes back to Burton he fights for his place, if he goes to Cork he’s playing games at a good level.”

Hunt says Mick McCarthy almost signed the Wexford defender for Ipswich last year. “He trained with Mick McCarthy for a week. Mick said ‘listen, if I didn’t have a full capacity of centre-backs I’d probably sign him’.”

Cork have beaten Dundalk twice already this season, a 3-0 win in the season’s curtain-raiser President’s Cup, and a 2-1 victory at Turner’s Cross in March.

What makes tonight’s encounter even more intriguing is that Kenny’s champions finally appear to have hit top gear, much like their great rivals.

In a testing season, winger Michael Duffy has been one of the brightest stars at Oriel Park. The Derry man has been one of the league’s players of the season on his return to Irish football from Celtic. Duffy’s brilliant free kick opened the scoring in the 2-0 win against St Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park last weekend and he agrees Dundalk are now playing their best football of the campaign.

“I thought it was one of the best we have had this year,” Duffy told the club’s website.

“We were good all over the park.

“We have had four clean sheets in a row now as well which is great. We have the firepower to go and score at the other end which we have shown but we are keeping clean sheets now and the team is coming together well. I think we are starting to settle into a rhythm now and you can see that in our play. Some results haven’t went our way but we are going along well now and we are starting to click.”

Stephen Kenny is likely to have midfielders Steven Kinsella (hamstring) and John Mountney (groin) available.

For Cork, Maguire looks certain to start after overcoming a heavy knock received against Rovers while Caulfield will make late decisions on Alan Bennett, Garry Buckley, and Steven Beattie.

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