Garry Haylock: Sometimes when things are going so well, it can be a curse as well as a blessing

Fri, May 05 2017

John Caulfield is too long in the tooth to be thinking the title race is over. Credit: Peter Fitzpatrick (ETPhotos)

So the first round of games is over and Cork sit proudly atop the table with 11 wins out of 11, thus meaning that the league is now over and everyone else is playing for second place.


I am not completely sure if anyone has overturned such a big lead at this stage of the season but I am pretty sure that the supporters of Cork are quite happy at the moment.


I don’t know John Caulfield very well but what I do know about him is that he is way too long in the tooth to be thinking that the title race is over. A winning momentum is very difficult to create and something that is very easy to lose.


John will be thinking about all the different things that can go wrong – referee decisions, injuries and suspensions to name just a few – and he will be trying to translate that to the players and keep them 'in the zone' for as long as possible.


What can be absolutely guaranteed is that something will go wrong and the real test of Cork’s season will be when that does happen and how they react.


I am sure the coaching staff will be thinking, given the last few years when they have played second fiddle to Dundalk, it will have toughened the players' mentality and they should be OK – hopefully!


I was trying to remember a time in my own career when something similar happened and the nearest thing was when I was managing in the Conference when Oxford United were relegated down.


they won the first 13 games and were miles ahead of everyone. jim Smith was the manager and he kept trying to play down the expectations but to no avail.


they were gradually hauled in and eventually I sat in the stand and watched them lose in the play-off semi-final on penalties when their goalkeeper missed the critical kick!


It took the former League Cup winners another 6 years to gain promotion back to the Football League.


A player’s state of mind is a difficult thing to judge. When things are going well a footballer’s life is idyllic: you turn up to training and games, everything falls for you, winning just seems to happen and knowing why that is can be far more important than knowing what is going wrong.


A couple of years ago, Scunthorpe appointed Russ Wilcox as manager following a difficult run. He proceeded to lead the team to a world record-breaking undefeated run for a new manager with the team going unbeaten for 28 games.


Needless to say, the team were promoted and Russ won an award from FIFA.


That summer Exeter City signed one of the stalwarts from that team and the coaching staff were eager to talk to him and try to find out what they had done to achieve such an incredible feat.


The player’s exact words were: “I dunno really, we played five a sides every day.” (You’ve got to love these eloquent footballers!).


We discussed this, with the consensus being that Russ didn’t actually know what he was doing right and that as soon as the team did hit a difficult spell, he would struggle to cope. One of the people even suggested that he may not last long in the job, which was openly laughed at.


The reality, Scunthorpe got off to a bad start in League One and by October Russ was looking for a new job.


He is now working on the backroom staff at Doncaster, and I like to think he is still a little bemused by that astonishing run of results.


The opposite is also true.


In November, Exeter City were bottom of the football league. The longest-serving manager, Paul Tisdale, was under pressure as it looked like their league status was under threat.


I spoke to the manager and he was adamant that they could still finish in the play-offs, a place that was achieved last Saturday.


The point of this story is to relate it to the current situation at Cork – sometimes when things are going so well, it can be a curse as well as a blessing.


There is so much luck involved in football that when you get such a good run of it, there is an inevitability to the arrival of a run of really bad luck. Turner’s Cross beware!


Garry Haylock is a former professional footballer and manager. During his playing career he represented Shelbourne, Dundalk, Linfield and Glentoran, winning the Premier Division twice and the FAI Cup three times, as well as two titles in Northern Ireland and 2 IFA Cups.