Impossible task: Liam Mackey selects his best City XI from three title-winning seasons
LIAM MACKEY picks his best XI from City’s three title-winning teams Profiles: Martin Claffey and Liam Mackey
The challenge was a simple one: pick the best XI from Cork City’s three title-winning teams of 1993, 2005 and 2017. Faced with an abundance of riches all over the park and, in particular, a handful of almost impossible head to head contests, one could just as easily have opted to pull the names out of a hat and still been sure of fielding a pretty formidable starting line-up. While opinion was canvassed from a number of informed sources, the final call on the team was mine. Working from front to back, I could see no way to pick one from two of the most outstanding strikers to have worn the City colours, which in turn dictated an oldschool 4-4-2 formation and, as a further consequence, a bit of tactical tweaking of position and personnel to accommodate the fab four across the middle. In the final analysis, that’s what this has to be: a personal choice which can’t be anything close to definitive, if such a thing is even possible picking 11 players from three titlewinning squads covering a span of 24 years. But, with apologies to a number of great servants of Cork football who didn’t make the final cut, what we have here is one hell of a team.
Manager: John Caulfield. Noel O’Mahony and Damien Richardson were the managers who oversaw success with Cork City in 1993 and 2005 respectively but Caulfield, who was one half of the strikeforce in the team which lifted the glittering prize 24 years ago, has now copperfastened his already legendary status at the club. To do so by eclipsing a Dundalk side which had taken League of Ireland football to another level in recent years, makes this an even more notable achievement.
Joe Gamble: The beating heart of the 2005 side, Gamble was as good on the ball as he was tough in the tackle, making him an inspirational midfield presence for City. Gamble was so outstanding in his prime that, in the modern era, he became one of an elite group to earn international honours while playing in the League of Ireland.
Danny Murphy: The very definition of an attack-minded full-back, Murphy provided a springboard on the left side for so much of the fast, fluent football which characterised City’s 2005 title win. A tight call given how much Kevin O’Connor contributed to City’s latest triumph. But the ‘Cockney Rebel’ gets the nod.
George O’Callaghan: One of the club’s favourite sons, O’Callaghan, more than anyone else, supplied the ‘wow’ factor in the 2005 team, his sublime presence ensuring there was no shortage of style as well as steel in the City midfield. Ended 2005 season being named the League of Ireland Player of the Year.
Alan Bennett: This classy and commanding centre-half is the only player in our ‘Best Of‘ lineup to feature in two of Cork City’s title-winning sides, 2005 and 2017. Perhaps an even more telling tribute, is that his selection here alongside Declan Daly means there’s no place in our starting XI for Dan Murray.
Declan Daly: Tough as they come, playing for City was a labour of love for Declan Daly. Noel O’Mahony chose wisely when giving Daly the armband. Daly was an inspirational figure in the 1993 title-winning side, hard in the tackle and a danger from set pieces too. Also skippered City to the FAI Cup in 1998.
Neil Horgan: He has been described as “the League of Ireland’s Denis Irwin”. A solid, unflappable full-back, Horgan was defensively strong and a fine reader of the game but always willing to get forward, playing a key role in the 2005 title-winning team.
Pat Morley: ‘Skippy’ enjoyed a stellar career across League of Ireland but it’s at City he was at his most prolific, to this the day the club’s joint top scorer, with 129 goals. The top scorer in the League of Ireland during the 1992/3 season, Morley enjoyed a successful partnership with John Caulfield which terrorised defences.
Dave Barry: Perhaps most famous for that goal in the Uefa Cup, classy Barry was able to find space in the tightest of midfield battles and a composed presence in midfield. Also a star of Cork GAA, Barry went on to manage City to FAI Cup success in 1998.
Sean Maguire: He might not have been there at the end but the 2017 league trophy has Maguire’s fingerprints all over it, his superb haul of 20 goals in his final, truncated season with Cork ensuring that the job was virtually complete before he left for Preston.
Liam Kearney: Forming a productive partnership with the ‘Cockney Rebel’ on the left flank, ‘Conna Maradona’ Kearney’s twinkling toes struck fear into the hearts of opponents and brought the fans to their feet during the glorious 2005 campaign.
Mark McNulty: Phil ‘Biscuits’ Harrington in 1993 and Michael Devine in 2005 were tough acts to follow but, having had to bide his time as an understudy before making the No.1 jersey his own in 2010, the Ballincollig man they call ‘Nults’ has since been ever-present between the sticks since.