‘Just a phenomenal feeling, a fantastic feeling”.
So said victorious manager John Caulfield of the moment — after 120 had already elapsed — when, with a little helping of luck, Sean Maguire struck the winning goal against Dundalk to secure the 2016 FAI Cup final for Cork City.
“You give your life to this,” Caulfield reflected afterwards.
“It affects everyone, including your family. People don’t understand. They give their opinions about you and don’t realise the work that’s gone in, the hours spent in preparation, getting every thing right, from video analysis down to the finer details of the bus, the music, the lads’ gear. It certainly made it all worthwhile. Absolutely.
“And I keep saying this — I know you’re sick of hearing it — but especially for the supporters.
“Some of them can be fickle but I must admit that, since the day I was appointed, I’ve had nothing but outrageous support around the city and county.
“I said to the lads before the match: ‘look at our crowd today, they’ve all got up at 5. 30 or six o’clock in the morning to travel up here and support you’.
“I’m just delighted for them going home after that, and we’ll have a great night tomorrow in the city. It’ll put a smile on everyone’s face for Christmas.”
Caulfield was particularly happy to pay tribute to match-winner Maguire, the 22-year-old striker who came back to haunt the club which couldn’t find a space for him in last year’s final, with what was his 29th goal for City this season.
“When we signed him, I just said to him he’d get opportunities if he worked hard,” said the manager.
“I could see very quickly he was a phenomenal player. He started pre-season on fire and just kept it up right through. He was outstanding in Europe.
“He started the season by scoring in the President’s Cup so it’s fitting for him to get the winner in our last game of the season.
“He’s a tremendous player and a lovely person. I like fellas who really want it, good lads who train hard and put the work in. I like honesty and real guys who are dedicated and he’s one of those.”
But there were other Cork heroes yesterday, not least the veteran pair of Alan Bennett (35) and Colin Healy (36), the latter a 100th minute substitute who was probably making his last appearance in the club colours as the heavyweight clash went all the way to the wire.
“Bennett is a warhorse,” said Caulfield. “He doesn’t train all the time because of his age but week after week he just gets himself on that pitch to perform.
“He was outstanding in last year’s cup final and today he was immense.
“Colin Healy is a phenomenal person. I always say to young players: ‘look at the way he trains, look at his attitude. Look up to him, he’s never sloppy, he’s always up for it, never in bad form. So it was fitting for him to come on today.
The game was tretched, we got tired and he came in and he made some unbelievable interceptions. Particularly one tackle he made on Daryl (Horgan) when Daryl looked like he was in. But overall he gave us that composure.
“It’s great for him. He was part of the 2007 final win which was okay but there wasn’t the same buzz then and he knew that today was the day. Even coming on you could see that he wanted it. He wanted that winner’s medal.”
For Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny, a long day following a long week ended with the unaccustomed sensation of defeat — and in the cruellest possible way.
“That goes without saying, to lose it in the last minute of extra-time, obviously, we’re very disappointed with that,” he said. “I felt we had some decent chances in the first half.
“Bar a spell in the second- half when Seán Gannon headed off the line and Gary (Rogers) made a few good saves — that little spell there Cork were on top — the rest of it I thought we controlled.
“We certainly looked the more likely to win it in extra-time even though it was such a gruelling trip (to St Petersburg) to play Thursday night and then get back. It was a monumental effort by the players and they pushed themselves to their absolute limits physically.
“You have to take the good with the bad. Cork are a good team and don’t concede many goals and they obviously have an attacking threat.
“It’s a tough one to take for us but that’s the way it goes.
“We’ve lost a final which I thought we probably didn’t deserve to lose, considering the effort we put in. But we have to accept that.”
And, of course, it’s not season’s end for Dundalk, who still have two games to play in the Europa League, with the chance of making more history by qualifying for the knock-out stage.
“We have to make sure we keep a level of intensity up,” said Kenny.
“Thursday fortnight against AZ Alkmaar is a big game for us. We can go a long way to qualifying if we win that game. But that’s easier said than done.
“They are recent Eredivisie champions and got to the quarter-finals of this recently so they’re obviously a good team.”
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