Manager: John Caulfield
Stadium: Turners Cross
Players in: Graham Cummins (Saint Johnstone), Danny Kane (Huddersfield Town), Peter Cherrie (Bray Wanderers), Tobi Adebayo-Rowling (Sligo Rovers), Aaron Barry (Derry City), Colm Horgan (Salthill Devon), Josh O’ Hanlon (Saint Patrick’s Athletic), Barry McNamee (Derry City), Sean McLoughlin (U.C.C), Sean O’ Mahony (Cobh Ramblers)
Players out: Robbie Williams (Galway United), Sean Maguire, Kevin O’ Connor (Both Preston North End), Stephen Dooley (Coleraine), Achille Campion (Linfield), Greg Bolger (Shamrock Rovers), Christian Nanetti (Welling United), Ryan Delaney (Burton Albion)
Extratime.ie Key Man: [Players Name]: Graham Cummins
Graham Cummins last involvement with City help secure them the First Division title and successful promotion back to the Premier Division. It also resulted in a move across the water to Preston North End two months later. A difficult spell resulting in him being sent out on loan to Rochdale who he then helped gain promotion to League One. Upon release from Preston, he signed for Exeter City and then Saint Johnstone in Scottish Premier League. He became a key part of the Perthshire club’s push for European football and signed off with the winner at Ibrox.
The main questions will be if he can reach the heights of before and will he be able to fill the void left by Seanie Maguire. That remains the key to Cork’s success, or lack thereof, this season. Cummins will be expected to lead the attack, possibly assisted by Karl Sheppard and Kieran Sadlier. He is a striker used to playing on the shoulders of opposing defenders and reacting to opportunities. It is less likely to see him dropping deep to pick up the ball or running at players. As long as good service is provided, he could thrive again.
Extratime.ie One to Watch: Tobi Adebayo-Rowling.
I could have mentioned Danny Kane being an underage international as well as Aaron Barry who will also no doubt challenge for the void left by Ryan Delaney’s move back to his parent club. I am, however, going to plump for the attacking left-back from Sligo. It was a critical area to address last season following Kevin O’ Connor’s departure as part of the Maguire deal. Steven Beattie filled in briefly but found himself in and out of the side. Shane Griffin found himself as the incumbent towards the end of the season. It made for uneasy viewing to see the young attacker being caught out of position and clearly being uncomfortable.
Adebayo-Rowling will hopefully provide a balance on the left-hand side and an extra-dimension going forward. He was highly regarded in a relegation threatened side due to his crossing ability, willingness to get forward and deftness of touch. In a team who struggled to score goals, he still managed to create a number of chances. He will also be able to link up again with former Bit O’ Red colleague, Kieran Sadlier. Turners Cross have always enjoyed an energetic and committed full-back. Hopefully we have another one on our hands this season.
How they did last season:
League: Champions. Keeping up with the club’s odd tradition so far of winning the league every twelve years, City finished top of the pile ahead of Dundalk by 7 points. It broke their habit of relying on last night drama or play-offs to decide its destination. And truthfully, the league was done pretty early in the campaign. A run of twelve straight wins, aligned with rivals dropping points, put the Munster side in the driving seat. Departing from Oriel Park with a 3-0 win against the reigning champions, and another hat-trick for Sean Maguire, ensured that the ribbons were already being changed. It actually took struggling Galway at Eamonn Deacy Park for the first points to be dropped in a 22 match run.
If the majority of the season was built on stunning goals, solid defending and fluid passing, then the latter third of the campaign was something of a struggle. It came down to a variety of reasons. Injuries in key positions, notably that of captain John Dunleavy, the sales of Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor and basic fatigue. 21 points dropped in the last 11 games would suggest somewhere near to relegation form.
Defeats at home to the likes of Bohs, Sligo and poor displays on TV away to Limerick and Shamrock Rovers made many fret. A solid draw at home to Dundalk ensured they would require snookers and a draw with Derry saw them over the line. The eventual celebrations were somewhat muted as questions remained. In truth, it was a campaign from which they deserve a lot of praise.
FAI Cup: Champions. In truth, it was somewhat of an odd campaign. Kieran Sadlier scored his first goal for the club away to Bray but the season was beginning to hit a wall by that stage. Midlands rivals Athlone and Longford both were on the end of 7 and 4 goal hammerings respectively. Athlone were struggling to put together a side at the time and also in the midst of financial strife and match-fixing allegations. Longford, managed by former City player Neale Fenn, lacked the necessary experience to deal with top flight opposition. Limerick arrived on the back of a 2-1 success at Markets Field and were unlucky to not inflict another defeat on the home team.
And so they found themselves against familiar opposition at the national stadium. It had been the third successive final where the teams had met each other. Neither of the previous two had been high-scoring affairs, and both sides were tied apiece in terms of wins. Rumour surrounded the future of many City players, with a departure expected for Sheppard to the Lillywhites. Controversy reigned over a video taken of McNulty engaged in chants against the opposition. Chances were created by both sides, and both had periods of control, but it remained dead-locked. A last-minute winner almost transpired again for City but it was cleared in time. In extra-time Dundalk struck through Dane Niclas Vemmelund from a set-piece. Fans were losing hope until Frenchman Achille Campion turned and converted a wonderful volley for the equaliser. They could not be separated until penalties. In front of the Dundalk supporters, McNulty saved the crucial spotter from Michael Duffy, to allow Sadlier net the winner. A first double since the 1950’s and a huge celebration from the Cork fans.
EA Sports Cup: Having eased to win 3-0 in their game away to Limerick, and then 2-0 at home to Saint Pats, Cork and Dundalk were kept apart for the semi-final draw. The anticipation was yet another final between the two sides but Shamrock Rovers had a different story. Cork City were up against it following the dismissal of Alan Bennett in the 37th minute but hung in gamely. From being a generally even encounter at that point, Rovers took control of the game. Mark McNulty produced a number of great saves to deny Burke, Clarke and Madden and frustrate the home crowd. Just when penalties were looming, teenager James Donna provided the breakthrough to sink the league leaders. The emphasis remained on juggling commitments in Europe, along with the FAI Cup and the League, rendering it as a lesser priority. A domestic triple is very rarely achieved, so that remained a disappointment.
What to expect this season:
More competition. The one-two nature of Cork and Dundalk have pushed each team to greater heights. It has involved both sides competing for the league title and FAI cup final for the past three seasons. The expected challenges from others failed away as they lacked the necessary strength in depth and resources to match up. This year could be different.
It could be argued that City are back where they were at the start of last season. The poor run-in, added to the loss of certain players, would have made some question their ability to compete this year. Particularly, when you add in Champions League qualifiers. However, City are quiet but confident. They managed to retain the core spine of the side. Supporters were delighted to hear Steven Beattie, Mark McNulty, Karl Sheppard and Gearoid Morrissey had signed on again. The return to fitness of John Dunleavy and Kavanagh will be a huge boost and the signings will attend to areas that needed strengthening. Caufield has/had the reputation of being somewhat cautious at times but hopefully the spirit and confidence from last year will produce more attacking play.
Title Odds: 6/4
First game: The first league encounter sees them travel away to St. Patrick’s Athletic. City’s previous visit saw the home side recover from two down to ensure survival for another season.