The ongoing battle between Dundalk and Cork City kick-starts its 2018 run with the President’s Cup on Sunday afternoon.
The needle that exists between these two has been amplified nearly every time these two come into each other’s line of vision. The animosity that exists in the hearts and minds of City and Dundalk can only do so when two teams dominate a league the way these two do – for City, there is only Dundalk in this league, and vice versa.
Understandably, that has not been the case this time around, with the match coming so soon after the tragic passing of former City and Ireland player Liam Miller on Friday. While Sunday’s clash is likely to be a sombre affair as it will feature many players who have shared a pitch with Liam in his brief but fulfilling spell in the Premier Division, it should also be a salute, of sorts, to the sport that Liam loved so much and devoted so many years to.
While the two have shared the last four Premier Division titles and not given anyone else a look in for either the top two positions or cup final slots, the head-to-head battles have been dominated by one side for the past few years.
Since Richie Towell struck in extra time in what proved to be the cup final winner in 2015, Cork City and Dundalk have faced each other ten times in all competitions. Of those ten, Stephen Kenny’s side have emerged victorious on just one occasion – a 2-1 win at Oriel Park in October 2016.
That game aside, Cork City have won four league games, two FAI Cups and two President’s Cups. They went to Oriel last June, in a game that Dundalk badly needed to win to stop the gap at the top from becoming a chasm, and were bossed around the park. Even when the Lilywhites went to Turner’s Cross at the tail end of last season, when they were in flying form and City looking a bit rocky beforehand, Dundalk were cagey, nervous, and the only positive they could take from that game is that they didn’t have to watch the Leesiders win the title right in front of them.
As far as Dundalk are concerned, that has to change. They can’t claim supreme dominance of the league when one team has an Indian sign over them like this. This is why the pain of losing the league last season must be used by Stephen Kenny to Dundalk’s advantage, the trophy that had resided in their cabinet for three years running now has a new resting place and the Dundalk boss must tap into the same sense of anger and frustration that City felt for years, the same determination to win that finally saw them win the league last season.
It promises to be a fascinating encounter, not least as it will give some indicator as to how Cork City and Dundalk plan to operate tactically for the coming year. John Caulfield seems certain to utilise the same 4-2-3-1 that he went with for the majority of last season, and the acquisitions of Barry McNamee and Graham Cummins certainly point to that (though injury is likely to rule the former out on Sunday). At the back, however Caulfield certainly has options at his disposal with a number of defensive players signed in pre-season.
Dundalk’s approach, though, is a bit more intriguing right now, purely because it has been another winter of upheaval at the club. Losing Niclas Vemmelund, Patrick McEleney and David McMillan all in one go will have been tough for the club to take, and while they repsonded by bringing in the likes of Ronan Murray, Stephen Folan and the returning Pat Hoban, the fact that not all of the departed players have been directly replaced in a positional sense makes Kenny’s tactical setup this season an interesting prospect.
Then there are the two imports from foreign shores, Karolis Chvedukas and Kristjan Adorjan. Both have been brought in to provide competition to an already congested Dundalk midfield. Can Adorjan fill the void left by McEleney? And if he does, does that mean that Murray and Hoban will be fighting for one starting spot up front?
Dundalk have recovered from key players leaving before and Kenny’s ability to develop technically gifted players suggests that he will be confident of bouncing back again – and, as Caulfield and City would confirm, there is no better way of making a statement than defeating the defending champions.
In the latest episode of the Mixer Irish football podcast, we look ahead to this weekend’s curtain-raising President’s Cup between Cork City and Dundalk and discuss the latest League of Ireland news and transfers.
Read More About: barry mcnamee, cork city, Dundalk, graham cummins, john caulfield, karl sheppard, karolis chvedukas, kristjan adorjan, Liam Miller, LOI Premier Division, pat hoban, ronan murray, stephen kenny