2014’s second-placed side Cork City head into this season without the surprise factor they had last year, however they have added real quality to their ranks in effort to win their first title in ten years.
Here Rob Lyons previews Cork City’s 2015 campaign.
After what was a sterling performance in 2014, John Caulfield’s side will hope to expand this season on what was, for many, a surprising title push last year.
The 2014 season included many ups and downs but for those loyal to Cork City the season represented a return to what is expected on Leeside – challenging for silverware. Considered by many to be Cork City FC personified, Caulfield brought back a local element to a side which was increasing in confidence week on week.
Dundalk, Sligo Rovers, St. Pat’s and Shamrock Rovers would have entered the season as the bookies’ favourites but the Leesiders shocked all before them by putting sustained pressure on Dundalk up until the final game of the season.
The narrative of the entire year surrounded the return of a Leeside legend to the club in Caulfield, however for this writer it was the Leesiders’ veteran players who performed above and beyond what was expected of them was what stood out. Colin Healy, Dan Murray, and to a certain extent John O’Flynn recaptured what had made them immortals in the Rebel city.
The promises of Cork City’s successful youth sides also impacted on the first team to great effect with Brian Lenihan, Gary Buckley and to a lesser extent Rob Lehane and John Kavanagh all having a part to play in a remarkable campaign.
In September and October Cork City won all but one game, which was to be the title showdown against Dundalk in the final game of a long season. The pressure which had been put on the champions elect was a credit to Caulfield and his team who had doubters casting aspersions on his Cork City side right up until the end of October.
With 30% of the journalists polled at the recent launch of the SSE Airtricity League voting in favour of Cork City to claim the title, the Rebel Army head into this season with a target on their back and are one of the sides to be knocked off their perch.
First Three Games
Away to Sligo
First up is a stern test against Owen Heary’s men at the Showgrounds. The ex-Bohemians man has proved his credentials already at this early stage of his managerial career and the long trip north will be made all the more worrisome by the fact Sligo have scored 33 goals in six pre-season games, conceding just four goals.
Home to Limerick
Cork City will be favourites as Limerick make their first away trip of the season on Leeside. Martin Russell’s side will not shirk the challenge however, knowing they are capable of going toe to toe with Cork City from their pre-season exploits, in which they beat City on penalties to reach the Munster Senior Cup final.
Expect a close game but one City will ultimately win in front of an inflated attendance at Turner’s Cross for the club’s first home game of the season.
Away to Shamrock Rovers
A tough opening to the season doesn’t become any more forgiving for the Rebel Army with a trip to Tallaght making for an early-season barometer of how well Caulfield’s side have progressed since last season’s escapades.
Rovers will look for revenge from last year’s three league defeats in what is a mouthwatering clash with former Irish internationals Keith Fahey, Liam Miller, Colin Healy, Alan Bennett and Stephen McPhail all set to feature.
The Corkman has returned after a long career featuring for clubs such as Sunderland, Manchester United and Celtic. The 34-year-old will likely line-up alongside fellow Ballincollig AFC youth player Colin Healy, forming a formidable partnership in the middle.
His experience from his time playing for Ireland as well as some of Britain’s biggest club will make him a key asset for Cork City in 2015.
Key Young Player
Promising so much towards the end of the 2013 season, the 21-year-old striker had a 2014 campaign to forget with injury seriously curtailing his inclusion.
This season could be a new dawn for the pacey frontman, who has illustrated in the stints he has featured consistently for City’s first team that he is capable of making the step-up. This could be the year Morrissey showcases his potential to the rest of the country.
Major Transfers In
Signed from Melbourne City, Miller returns to his hometown for the first time since leaving for Celtic in 1997 and will add experience and composure to City’s midfield.
The ex-AFC Wimbledon captain provides the Leesiders with a reliable, and experienced centre-back to command the penalty area. He has already proved in pre-season his fantastic leadership abilities and will likely partner veteran Dan Murray at the back.
The 23-year-old will have his work cut out to break into a midfield containing Colin Healy, Liam Miller and Gary Buckley but he has shown he possesses great technical ability and will keep his competition on their toes.
Signed from Sligo during the off-season, Djilali offers Caulfield a wide option he would have craved for much of last season. The 24-year-old provides an option alongside Liam Kearney and Billy Dennehy out wide.
Sheppard featured sporadically for the Hoops last season, only scoring one league goal all year so he has something to prove to the City faithful. It will be no easy task to break into the starting XI either, with Danny Morrissey, Mark O’Sullivan, Rob Lehane and John O’Flynn for company up top.
Smith will hope to break into the team in 2015, but the former Rangers man may find it close to impossible with SWAI Goalkeeper of the Year Mark McNulty and Kevin O’Brien ahead of him in the pecking order.
Major Transfers Out
Morrison joins Derry having failed to make a significant impact on Leeside after joining from UCD last season.
Having been loaned out to Limerick last season, Turner moves to the Shannonsiders permanently ahead of the new season.
Arguably Cork City’s biggest loss this season, Morrissey signed for Cambridge United in January and he will be a major loss in the middle, albeit with the additions of Holohan and Miller.
O’Leary, who struggled to find any sort of continued inclusion in the first team has moved onto former Cork City manager Tommy Dunne’s Galway United where he may find chances more plentiful.
Pundit Arena Expectations
A year that promised so little in 2014 ended up yielding so much. The challenge for Caulfield’s men now is to live with the tag of favourites in some quarters and without an element of surprise, which they entered last season with.
The aforementioned acquisitions are sure to inject new life into an already talented squad. Defensively the Rebel Army are already sound, having held onto their entire defensive unit, which conceded just 25 league goals last term. The addition of Bennett to this mix of Darren Dennehy, Dan Murray, captain John Dunleay and Ross Gaynor makes for a formidable backline.
In midfield things are looking even brighter with Kieran Djilali and Billy Dennehy set to cause havoc out wide, whilst in the middle the Leesiders are spoilt for choice with Miller, Holohan, Buckley, Healy and if needs must, Dunleavy to call upon.
Having come out of nowhere in 2014, Mark O’Sullivan will become the opposition’s priority number one in an effort to stomp out his effectiveness. Young players like Lehane and Morrissey will need to prove they’re worthy of inclusion with new signing Sheppard not just coming to Cork to make up the numbers. A Leeside hero in O’Flynn proved last year there is a finish or two left in his locker also.
Competition is plentiful all over the pitch, now Cork City as a unit must prove their credentials in what is sure to be one of the most intriguing battles for the title in recent times.
Premier Division: 1st
FAI Cup: semi-final
League Cup: quarter-final
Potentially five players in Cork City’s 2015 starting XI won the Premier Division title ten seasons ago, this year. They include Mark McNulty, Alan Bennett, John O’Flynn, Liam Kearney & Dan Murray.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena