It is safe to say that 2017 couldn’t have gone much better for John Caulfield’s Cork City.
A first league title since 2005 was accompanied by the retention of the FAI Cup against fierce rivals Dundalk.
The double champions have bolstered their squad significantly in the off-season and look well-placed to retain their league title in 2018.
The loss of Sean Maguire to Preston midway through last season left a clear void in the City attack but striker Graham Cummins has returned to Leeside and will be tasked with replacing the beloved ‘Seani’ at Turner’s Cross.
Kieran Sadlier made the much-travelled journey from Sligo to Cork last summer and the former West Ham trainee notched five goals as City went on to capture the double.
After a promising start in Cork colours, it still seems that the best is yet to come from the Ireland under-21 international, who scored City’s winning penalty in the FAI Cup final.
Capable of playing on the wing as well as in a more central role, Sadlier’s first full season at the club should enhance his reputation further and he has the ability to take the league by storm.
Key new arrival:
The absence of Maguire was plain to see in City’s attack throughout the latter stages of last season.
The Premier Division had effectively been secured in the first half of the campaign, a period which saw the club go 22 games unbeaten.
However, goals proved harder to come by following Preston’s capture of Maguire in the summer transfer window. Graham Cummins is now the man expected to lead the line.
Sadlier, Karl Sheppard and Barry McNamee will all aid the ex-St Johnstone man in the scoring charts but the 30-year-old will be expected to deliver in front of goal in what is his second spell at the club.
It can be difficult at times for young talent to break into such star-studded squads but John Caulfield has a defender capable of making the step-up in Sean McLoughlin.
A product of the club’s underage sides, McLoughlin then spent two seasons at Munster Senior League and college side UCC, winning the MSL Premier Division and Collingwood Cup in 2017.
Cork were eager for the Cobh man to return to the club last summer and he made his debut away to St Pat’s after the Leesiders had claimed the league title.
The versatile defender has stood out in pre-season with numerous impressive displays. John Dunleavy is yet to leave his injury worries behind him while Alan Bennett’s age will prevent him from playing every game.
This leaves room for McLoughlin to challenge new arrivals Danny Kane and Aaron Barry for a place in the side.
One to watch:
Shane Griffin isn’t exactly a hidden gem on Leeside but the former Reading man has made the left-back spot his own since Kevin O’Connor departed for Preston North End.
The Carrigaline native has featured further forward at times in pre-season and could play a more attacking role this year. He was an ever-present during the latter half of 2017 in what was his first year back playing in Ireland.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Griffin reappear in English football if his displays here continue to attract plaudits and scouts alike.
Cork City appear to be on a strong footing at the moment both on and off the pitch. The recent appointment of a general manager and merchandise manager will allow the club capitalise on revenue from recent successes, further stabilising John Caulfield’s playing squad through long-term contracts.
Required signings have arrived in the relevant positions and the Leesiders have impressive strength in depth. The local spine of Mark McNulty, Alan Bennett, Gearóid Morrissey and Cummins is aided by the flair of McNamee, Sheppard and Sadlier and leaves Cork looking well-poised to retain their league title in 2018.
The Rebel Army travel to St Pat’s on the opening day before facing Munster rivals Waterford a week later. A trip to Sligo and a home clash with Bohemians follow before last season’s top two meet in Oriel Park on March 9.
These games should set the tone for the months to come and a win in Louth that early in the campaign would be huge for Caulfield’s men.
Pundit Arena prediction: 1st
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