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

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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