With Cork City languishing in mid-table, the memories of the glory days still an aftertaste in people’s mouths and attendances dwindling; things looked dyer for the Leesiders just a couple of seasons ago.
In stepped John Caulfield, a club legend and record goalscorer. With blood and vinegar City captured the city and county’s imagination through their never-say-die attitude and constant impassioned performances.
Now with the FAI Cup final looming, City boss John Caulfield speaks to Dylan O Connell of Pundit Arena and the UCC Express ahead of the big day.
So John, with all the buzz around the FAI Cup final next Sunday, how’re you feeling?
“I feel okay yeah, we’ve had a few knocks so we’re hoping this week they might clear up. Obviously we won away at Pat’s and Bohs and drew with Dundlak, which were three high intensity games which were needed.
“The challenge is that Dundalk are overwhelming favourites – they won the league by a mile this year, they are expected to win while our form dipped in the last few months when people look back to where we have been, and we need to put in a massive performance next Sunday. If we do, then we win the cup and if we don’t we won’t.”
Are you trying not to let it set into your players’ minds that they’re playing on the big stage, the Aviva Stadium, and how are you preparing for the game?
“Well, it’s a difficult one. There’s two ways to look at it. You can be overawed and not preform and go there and embrace the occasion. As footballers say, ‘this is where I want to play and this is where I want to be’. People react differently.
“I’m hoping that we can go into the occasion and soak up the atmosphere, [with] the fact that we haven’t played there before, but we do have a lot of experienced guys. But at the same time we go into the occasion, take it on board and soak up the atmosphere and make sure the atmosphere drives us on to play well on the day.”
How did you find the change from UCC and the Munster Senior League to League of Ireland level?
“It’s obviously different. I was with amateur footballers at Avondale, where I won national cups at amateur level and then I stepped up to UCC where I won the Collingwood Cup and the club became very strong. But they were amateur players.
“These guys are professionals and train every day to make their living and as well as that it is the highest level in the country with the opportunity to play European football.
“I suppose the challenge coming in was huge, and for John Cotter coming in, but my knowledge of the League of Ireland is strong from being a player and watching. Whether you’re in the top level of non-league with UCC and Avondale or with the highest level at City, you’re still dealing with people and you have to treat them with respect. The main difference is that these guys are getting paid and playing at the highest level.
“We were confident at the start that we could galvanise the team. Last year we had a phenomenal season and this year we’re second again unfortunately, but that’s where we have been at. Dundalk have pushed the bar high.
“But we are in a cup final and have qualified for Europe two seasons in a row. This is a building process and we’ll be stronger next year and we’re hoping to drive the club on and that’s what we’re aiming to do.
“Win or lose next Sunday – if we win it would be a fantastic occasion for our supporters – but the important thing is that we drive on and make sure we’re better again.”
Is this the biggest game of your managerial career?
“As a manager it’s hard to know. I suppose it’s the fact that it’s the cup final and it’s in the Aviva. I suppose from a public perspective and a supporter’s perspective it’s the excitement. It’s brilliant from a supporter’s point of view. I haven’t really seen it that way.
“I came in here to do a job. To revive the club and bring back the glory days and get the club back into Europe. To me it’s another step along the way. Maybe when I get there on Sunday it might. But, at the same time, we had the last game of the season last year. It’s good for the club. It’s been about going from mid-table to pushing for the top.”
Dylan O Connell, Pundit Arena
This article features extracts from the original interview published in UCC Express, volume. 19, issue 5.