Caulfield: This isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.
John Caulfield didn’t hit the town with his players to celebrate Cork City’s title win after the draw with Derry at Turner’s Cross on Tuesday night.
“I just went home and then to the local with a few of my buddies,” he reveals. “That was enjoyable for me, to be honest. For the lads who went into town, it was their night anyway.
“And I suppose,” he smiles, “there’s the age gap as well.”
Then, the morning after the night before, the manager was back at work.
“It’s a bit different when you’re still in the season,” he points out. “You have a match coming up, another one next week and then a cup final. You’re still in that mode. But when you win, it’s easy. You don’t feel tired.”
What Caulfield did feel was an understandable mixture of delight, satisfaction, and pride at his team’s achievement. But, also, he admits, a touch of relief. “It’s been a great season,” he says, “but because of that, the expectations were that we were going to win the league long before we did whereas I was well aware that when you lose a player of Sean Maguire’s ability it was going to have an effect.
“What was frustrating was that we had put so much energy into trying to bring in someone that might fill his boots — which was always going to be difficult, anyway — and though we got close a couple of times, it didn’t happen.
“Did I think we’d struggle to score goals? Being honest, I didn’t think it would be as difficult but, at the same time, I knew things were going to be much tougher than they were.
“Maguire made things happen and even when the team weren’t playing well he could get you goals out of nowhere or else, because he was such a marked man, it allowed other players more freedom in the final third.”
With Dundalk rediscovering their stride and City displaying more stagger than swagger as the finishing line approached, had the manager ever shared the nervousness of those fans who began to fear that the improbable, if not seemingly impossible, might actually come to pass?
“There’s always an element of concern when you’re dealing with the fact that most of your players had never won a league and, because of the phenomenal run we’d had, ex-
pectations were so high,” he reflects. “People saying we were already champions when we were not. And all the hype did have an effect.
“But I think reality hit home for the players in that game against Dundalk two weeks ago. That (1-1) result was crucial. If we hadn’t played well that night and — even though we should have won the match — come out with a draw in the end, certainly with the way Dundalk were going, anything was possible.
“But what people overlook is that we weren’t the first team to find the run-in difficult and the fact is we have still won the league with a couple of games to go. And we’re in another cup final as well.”
Yet, as is so often the way in football, even before this season of potential double glory reaches its conclusion for Cork City, speculation is already rife about possible and probable changes in the squad ahead of next year.
Caulfield says: “You hear talk of having to rebuild but the first thing I’ll say is that I’m giving the players the option to stay – I think they deserve that opportunity. I’ve had talks with players ongoing for a couple of months and we’re in a good place with a lot of them. But do I expect some fellows will go? Absolutely. I know that some have already been offered deals by other clubs that are outside our wage bracket.
“And if a fellow wants to get more money somewhere else, fine. But my thing is to try to sell them what we’ve got here: Trophies, medals, the environment, the crowd, Champions League football next season and, overall, where the club is at going forward.
“So while I would hope to keep the majority of the squad, at the same time I know I will need to bring in some players, maybe three or four guys to make us better again. And not necessarily from just within Ireland. We already know that Ryan Delaney is one who definitely has to go back, Burton have said that. And, of course, we know we have to bring in a centre-forward. “That’s the key position.” And though his contract is up for renewal, one key figure at the club who definitely isn’t going anywhere is the manager himself.
“A few things had to be sorted out but there’s no issue,” says Caulfield.
“The club are going in the right direction, we have new structures in place, we have a new general manager coming on board, and I’m thrilled with the way things are going. I just wanted to concentrate on getting the league won but players I’ve already talked to about next season who have agreed verbally to stay, know I’m staying too.
“The bigger picture for us is that it was all about winning the league and getting into the Champions League. All our energy went into that. The fact that we’re in the cup final is a bonus. And it’s not like
I’m here saying, ‘we’ve won the league, we’ve done it, that’s it.’ I felt the cup final last year was a springboard for the team and the club — and I think this title will be another.”
From left: City boss John Caulfield during the FAI Cup quarter-final with Longford; celebrating the defeat of Limerick in the cup semi-final, and then savouring the moment after City clinched the league title with his wife Gráinne and daughter, Sinéad.