The relationship between rival managers John Caulfield and Stephen Kenny has been markedly strained this year, deteriorating rapidly as the season progressed.
More than a quarter of a century ago, Dundalk delivered a stunning blow to Cork City by wresting the league title away on the last day of the season with a win at Turner’s Cross.
Older Cork fans still grumble about how the ref waved play on after a 50-50 challenge by the Lillywhites’ Mick Shelley on City’s Pat Duggan in the build-up to Tom McNulty’s league-winning goal in 1991. The old Shed bayed for a whistle that day, but to no avail.
Fast forward 25 years, though, and current Dundalk manager Kenny felt Cork’s vocal supporters were having an undue influence on proceedings at the Cross.
“Cork City have had nine penalties this season compared to our three,” said Kenny, in September 2016.
“Those statistics speak for themselves, I think. If an empty crisp packet blew in front of the Shed End in Turner’s Cross a penalty would be awarded. It makes for interesting reading when you see the stats like that.”
Dundalk would go on the claim their third SSE Airtricity Premier Divison title in a row just a month later, but Caulfield’s side ended their hopes of a second successive double by claiming a 1-0 extra-time cup final win at the Aviva Stadium last November.
Battle lines had clearly been drawn in the New Firm epic, and this season tensions have been raised again between the camps.
Cork City made a blitzkrieg start to the 2017 season, and clearly Dundalk were rattled. With the Louth side’s hopes of a fourth successive league crown taking a knock so early in the season, Kenny wasn’t slow to revisit the relationship with his side’s Munster rivals.
In April, Kenny took aim at City striker Seanie Maguire, effectively accusing him of diving to win penalties for the club.
Kenny said: “To not get a penalty in a full year when another team gets 13, does that mean I tell our players to go down all the time? I encourage my players to be honest. As a club we have to rise above all of that. There is a massive disparity in the decision-making process. Is it Turner’s Cross? Why the disparity? We want some evenness in that regard and there has to be a fairness attached to everything.
“I think the referees and assistants are in a difficult position but they have to see through the current trend of manufacturing penalties.”
The gloves were off.
Caulfield, in response, called for the FAI to tackle Kenny’s outburst. “It was an astonishing attack on referees and I’m sure the relevant authorities will deal with it,” he told the Irish Examiner.
Kenny retorted: “I think his personal attack on me is quite low. As a fellow manager you should never launch personal attacks like that.”
Summer brought a truce of sorts but this week, tensions have risen again. This time it is Dundalk trying to stop their rivals claiming a double.
City goalkeeper Mark McNulty got carried away as he sang “Fuck the Lilywhites” with Cork fans at a raucous celebration of the league title. Caulfield dismissed McNulty’s actions as exuberance but it didn’t escape the Dundalk boss’s attention and he was not amused.
Kenny said: “Teams don’t have to like each other, there’s nothing abnormal about that, but there has to be a sporting respect. That’s out of the gutter really.”
The Dubliner went further, claiming an unnamed Cork player rang Dundalk skipper and former Cork player Stephen O’Donnell after the 2016 cup final to taunt him. However, that claim has not been substantiated.
The occasion didn’t need it but the simmering row has served to ratchet up tensions further ahead of the tomorrow’s showpiece.
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