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John Caulfield - 'It's the biggest week of the year in our own football calendar'

Thu, Nov 01 2018

John Caulfield Credit: Michael P Ryan (ETPhotos)

Truth be told, there is very little in common between the Bronx and Cork City. Spilt between two continents, and over 3,000 miles apart, the concrete jungle on the banks of the River Hudson does not have very much in common compared to the sleepy city on the banks of the Lee. 

One man begs to differ. John Caulfield. Born and raised in the Bronx, it wasn’t in the land of opportunity where he would make his name know. Moving to Athlone as a boy and then to his mother’s home of Cork, Caulfield’s field of opportunity came from the rounded ball in the fields far away from where he once called home. 

Now, in his fifth season at Cork City as manager. Caulfield became the first US born citizen to win a European top flight with last year’s league title win with the Rebel Army. He has guided City to two FAI Cup successes and a league title, including last season’s league and cup double success, as well as three President’s Cups and two Munster Senior Cups. Caulfield is now rallying himself for yet another battle on Sunday. 

Going into their fourth consecutive FAI Cup final on Sunday, the Rebel Army are gearing up once again to take on ‘New Firm’ rivals Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium. City are heading into unfamiliar territory for Cork football, with the chance of an elusive three in a row of cup successes. Caulfield, a man so entrenched in the pressures of Cork sport, was relaxed as ever in his preparations.

“Training is good,” said Caulfield speaking in the build up to Sunday’s Aviva showdown. “This is a unique occasion in players lives, there’s no point in saying otherwise. This is different to any other week because the league is week-in week-out and you are preparing Friday to Friday, but the cup final is the special day out. Everyone’s family is there. There’s the interest in the media. It’s the biggest week of the year in our own football calendar. It is different”

After a year which has seen City lose their champions tag to Dundalk and a European campaign fraught with misadventure; including four games without a goal scored, Caulfield was not simply looking at Sunday as a chance to salvage a season. 

“It depends what you mean by define your season. Is winning a trophy a season, do you have to do that? You have to look at this in the context that we are dominated by the UK. We can’t see past the UK. Everyone in the country is an armchair supporter, every lad on the barstool thinks everything is dominated by the UK.

“Our league is now being treated like that. Managers are being treated like that. Get rid of this, get rid of that. But we’re not at that level. We are struggling to create our own industry here. No player here in the country wouldn’t be on a wage that would probably be up there with League One in England.

"Let’s call it. Most players are scrapping for a few bob. 80% of them aren’t under contract since last Friday night. We are not in that industry’s but the manager and players are treated that way.  

“What are we here for? Realistically there are two trophies - the FAI Cup and the League. Is our season defined by Sunday? Depends what way you want to look at it.”

Reflecting on this definition, Caulfield was eager to add perspectives to the battle for silverware, 

“This club has been phenomenally consistent the last number of years. It’s qualified for Europe. Am I aware there are a small few saying this and that should happen. We cannot just go out there and buy players. I’m not like Mourinho and buy players here and there.

"We’re not in that market but unfortunately we are treated that way. We have to deal with that. I’m around the league a long time; I played, I was a supporter and a manager so I know we have this sensationalist edge around the league.”

Reflecting on 2018 as a whole, Caulfield was open on the daily duties at managing Cork City. 

“To be clear, when we won the league last year when you look at that squad we made League of Ireland history with that squad. We’re the first Cork City team to win the double. Four of that squad are now in England. Delaney, Maguire, Dooley and Kevin O’Connor. Greg Bolger went to Rovers.

"That’s brilliant for those guys but this is the way it is. Every year you are chopping and changing. Stephen Kenny is in an ideal position. He got investors who came in and put money into the club, and gave these guys three year deals. That’s a fantastic position to be in.

"Wouldn’t it be great if we where all in that position, but they’re the only club who can do it. At the end of the day it’s brilliant for the players and the management. Within our club we are trying to keep everything rolling and we’ve had some incredible success.”

Given the strengths of the market, City boast the best record for youth development within their squad against the whole league. With six of their starting XI all bred through the youths including former Republic of Ireland internationals Damien Delaney and Alan Bennett, this is not an area Caulfield was hopeful to build from going forward, 

“We sold Damien Delaney and Alan Bennett. If we can sell a player every year it helps. Funny enough though, we haven’t had the players coming through our academy that we would have hoped. We have had a number of players come through our academy; Conor Elis, Cian Coleman, Kevin Taylor, and all these lads are having a good career in League of Ireland.

"Coming from under 19s to first team; and a first team that is challenging, the step up is big and sometimes too big for a lot of those lads at the time. Will some of those lads get the experience and come back to us? We hope that happens. You don’t know.

"The step up to first team football to competing for trophies and Europe is massive. We have a policy with Colin Healy in charge of our academy that we are trying to bring more players through and can we work more with players coming through”

“If I thought we could bring those fives lads through next season, we would have no chance of competing for trophies, so we have to decide if we want to be at the top competing”

Drawing comparison to Dundalk and their recent take over by Peak 6 Investment, it was clear there would be an uphill task going forward for his side, 

“We’re Cork City. I’m the manager at the club and I have to do right by the club. This period of time is the most excellent period we have had. If we can great. But financially we are not near their market. In fairness to them, they have decided to monopolize the Dublin market and they’re buying players and players they don’t need. They have money.

"The new investors want to monopolise and do a Rosenborg. Ultimately in that part of the country where a lot of players come from they can see if they can get all the best players out of there. 

“We have to run our own show. You can get caught up in watching other teams. They brought Patrick McEleney back from England and give him a good contract. We wouldn’t be in the market so we have to bring in our own guys through, can we be clever and bring free transfers in. Can we get the players who are playing at clubs and go to another level? What we can do is focus on our own club.

With this in mind, Caulfield was quick to downplay the recent talks of budget cuts within the club, 

“I was told that it was out there that there was budget cuts. Since the day I was taken on I have worked in the budget. Every year we sit down and we go through; like any business, how to run the club. I look after all the football side of it. All the funding comes from me in that point of view.

"There was a lot of stuff said that because of the Champions League we are losing five or six hundred thousand. That was rubbish. We never invested that money last year. What we have been doing the last number of years, now we have extra costs. The under 17s and 15s for example.”

Regardless of this, Caulfield was adamant this wouldn’t effect his team going forward into 2019 as he continues to fight it out at the top once again,  

“From a financial point of view we are prudent and there are certain areas we have to trim. Do you ask me do I see us up there competing next season? I don’t see any changes to that”.