Under a flawless sky at the Cork International Airport Hotel, Neale Fenn greets the press with a freshened air of optimism.Tue, Aug 27 2019
It may seem almost like a cliché, but the weather mirrored the room. Under a flawless sky at the Cork International Airport Hotel, Neale Fenn greets the press with a freshened air of optimism.
Throughout the morning, this feeling of optimism and hope was the theme as Cork City confirmed the managerial appointment of the former Longford Town manager.
On the back of a drizzling cup loss to Galway United last Friday, it was certainly a change in a mood at the city and club.
On the back of a disappointing year for Cork, Neale’s Fenn’s appointment has already acted as a catalyst to a side grappling for a sense of self.
Sitting seventh in the league, and after a disappointing run through Europe and the FAI Cup, accumulating in last week’s loss to First Division side Galway, there was a lighter, more hopeful atmosphere on all avenues after Fenn was unveiled on Monday morning.
Once a prolific striker at the club, Fenn is remembered for shooting City into the quarter-finals of the 2004 Intertoto Cup and to the 2005 League of Ireland title.
After retiring from football in 2010, Fenn developed an expressive and possession based game through spells at Leytton Orient and, most recently, Longford Town.
The challenge now is simple: rekindling the flames of his former club, to set alight the imagination of the Rebel Army and rebuild the team itself.
It is a situation not too far gone in Cork. Just six years previous banners for saying ‘enough is enough’ colored the Shed End as City slipped into a relegation battle with Bohemians and Bray Wanderers.
That year City endured mixed success, seeing early season runs to the Setanta Sports Cup semi finals outdone by a lukewarm league campaign, leaving them only 13 wins through the year and the removal of manager Tommy Dunne.
This was all just three years since the club fought off liquidation and examinership to fall into the bottom of Irish football.
In a zero-year following the collapse, the club’s newfound identity was consolidated through the supporter graft which salvaged Cork City from the High Courts.
Born into a place of liminality, FORAS had took control and ownership of the club. After two seasons the force had pushed them back into the Premier Division.
Following a season of consolidation and securing safety, 2013’s poor showing left a major sense of questioning from the board.
Into the void, John Caulfield was tasked with sparking things even further. The club’s record goalscorer, with the most appearances, in his first season Caulfield transformed City from 16/1 outsiders into title contenders.
City pushed into the final twenty minutes of the season in a sell out decider against favorites and eventual champions Dundalk. At the core of such a turnaround was spirit.
Driven and built from the sporting memories long nestled in Ireland’s second city, the Rebel Army became synonymous with defensive stability, attacking flair, and a defining spirit built from the club’s sense of pride and place.
Caulfield, a league winner in 1991 with City, prepared the squad in his very first day in 2014 with footage from the club’s 2005 league title success.
Showing footage of current players such as Alan Bennett and now coach Neale Fenn celebrating became the inspiration, as the club built and drove the nostalgia into spirit.
What happened next was a game of cat and mouse between City and Dundalk. Laid on the foundations of that spirit and energy, City carved themselves into the record of Irish football successes.
They captured two FAI Cups, one league title, three Presidents Cups and Munster Senior Cup success, and showed a consistent defiance in Europe.
Never before has Cork football endured such a spell of success in Irish football. In the 35 years of Cork City, the club has never filtered for so long with such dizzying heights.
It would almost be a fairytale if not for the shift in 2019 which saw Caulfield relived of his duties at the club last May.
While Caulfield had pulled City up, there was a definitive sense that the he had taken City as far as he could.
Three months later, Neale Fenn has been tasked with taking over and creatng the same mood and feeling Caulfield did in 2013.
This time around, it is about more than just success and silverware. Fenn is entrusted with the wider reach and development of a club, connecting the ambitions of players, supporters and uniting the present and promise of tomorrow.
Through the smile; one mirroring THAT Friday evening from November 2005, the spirited edge of the noughties comes through as the promise of 2005 radiates.
Ask any City fan or causal acquaintance of the memories of ‘05, and of the promise and flair that was Cork City. Fenn comes in to a similar place than he did then.
Taking on a young squad, and one of the biggest support bases in the country, the next phase for Cork City and FORAS has been set in motion.
The hard part now for the Rebel Army is chasing their first home win in 14 weeks against Sligo Rovers on Friday evening.