Team: Cork City
Manager: John Caulfield
Top Scorer: Kieran Sadlier (24 in all competitions)
Stadium: Turners Cross
Highest Attendance: 6,672 (vs. Dundalk, April 27th)
Lowest Attendance: 2,486 (vs. Limerick, October 12th)
Star Player: Kieran Sadlier
After signing from Sligo Rovers in July 2017 and following his winning penalty to seal the double for Cork City, 2018 was always going to be a big year for the 24 year old winger. Following the departure of Seani Maguire, Sadlier delivered as the playmaker and creator for the Rebel Army as his balls from out wide produced 26 goals in 2018. Beginning the season with a stunner against Dundalk in the Presidents Cup, before going on to score hat tricks against the likes of Bray Wanderers, Sadlier proved to be the difference for City on a number of occasions, from scoring the equalizer against Bohemians in the FAI Cup semi final, to equalizing against Dundalk at the final in the Aviva last November.
Best Young Player: Sean McLaughlin
Signing from UCC in 2017, McLaughlin arrived at Cork City without much fanfare as he challenged Alan Bennett and Ryan Delaney for a starting spot. Against Aaron Barry and Damien Delaney for 2018, the 22 year old centre back was not phased as he earned himself a PFAI Team of the Year Selection and a breakthrough into the Republic of Ireland under 21s team.
Progressing into the first team, McLaughlin dominated the center back position throughout the summer month producing excellent displays against Legia Warsaw in the Champions League and seeing City only conceded two goals domestically across June and July.
Having closed out 2018 with an FAI Cup runners up medal, nothing is all lost as he remains under contract until July 2019. Reports of interest are alive from clubs in England, as McLaughlin prepares for his second full season at the top tier of Irish football.
Best New Signing: Graham Cummins.
Having left in 2011 after scoring a league winning extra time header against Shelbourne, Graham Cummins returned to the Cross as a hero and an already fan favorite. Bursting onto the scene with five goals and two assists in his first three appearances, the striker was immediately one of returned grace and status as the Shed End came alight to his presence up front.
Acting as the focal point of a four pronged attack, Cummins sat in the centre drawing defenses in allowing space for Kieran Sadlier and Karl Shepard out wide. It was a mechanism which toppled Dundalk in the President’s Cup and Bohemians in the FAI Cup semi final. Using his broad physique combined with experiences of abroad, Cummins bagged himself 14 goals as he returned.
A rounded player with ability to score and create, Cummins all round game proved vital in Cork City’s early season surge.
What we expected they would do:
At the start of the year, the Rebel Army were tipped to retain their crown as City bid to win back to back League of Ireland titles.
What they actually did:
City came into the season on the back of a 4-2 win against Dundalk in the President’s Cup at Oriel Park. Expectations were high as they spent very much the first half of the season at top spot, only to lose out after a 2-1 loss to Dundalk last June. Despite leading very much into the final round of fixtures, City only managed six wins for the rest of the season as they clamored through a late season surge to finish fourth. Part of what made this run so dogged was the excellent run of Dundalk from May to August, as City seemed to run out of steam.
What they need to improve on for next year:
Despite finishing second, City enjoyed a stellar season only to finish runners up to a record breaking Dundalk side in both the league and cup competitions. With a tally of 77 points, City could have picked up the title on any given season, with Dundalk’s dominance the only thing standing between the Leesiders and the title. Dundalk aside, City will need to build on two fronts for 2019. On the pitch, ball retention let the Leesiders down. High press was the downfall as goals leaked and cost points as City stumbled in losses to Waterford and Dundalk. Similar points can be raised for City’s attack, as the counter attacking mechanism proved to be the Rebel Army’s main point of attack, but such a mechanism thrived under the pace of Kieran Sadlier and the movement of Barry McNamee. With Sadlier now at Doncaster and the future of McNamee remaining unclear, City will be forced back to the drawing board to rebuild an attack for 2019.