Club le­gend Dec­cie on a spe­cial time to be a Red

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - FRONT PAGE - Martin Claf­fey

The first man to cap­tain a Cork City side to a League of Ire­land title be­lieves it may take years be­fore the scale of the club’s achieve­ments this sea­son are recog­nised.

What skip­per John Dun­leavy gets to do this year, lift­ing the League of Ire­land tro­phy, the high­est hon­our in Ir­ish do­mes­tic foot­ball, De­clan Daly achieved 24 years ago, lead­ing City to their first ever league title when Noel O’Ma­hony’s side made the break­through in 1993. A player renowned for his pas­sion on the field, th­ese days Daly re­tains that pas­sion as a Turner’s Cross reg­u­lar.

And he says he will never for­get what he has seen on Lee­side this sea­son. “I think peo­ple lose sight of what they did at the start of the sea­son,” says Daly. “To be hon­est, I don’t think the achieve­ments of this team will be fully re­alised un­til it’s all over. It could be years be­fore we re­ally grasp what they have done. I mean, to go through the first 22 league games, and only drop two points? That’s un­heard of.

“Ob­vi­ously they couldn’t keep up that pace; if you look at the record of Bo­hemi­ans of win­ning 15 in a row, that went back to the 1920s, al­most a cen­tury ago.

“The club was al­ways go­ing to hit a rough patch along the way — they lost two of the start­ing XI in mid-sea­son when Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Con­nor left — but I think they’ve still been ex­cep­tional. Af­ter all the goals that Maguire got — I mean, even a club as strong as Barcelona wouldn’t be the same team if you took out Messi or Suarez half­way through the sea­son!

“But I al­ways felt af­ter the start they made that they were go­ing to win the league. Even when they hit that rough patch, the per­for­mance against Dun­dalk in the 1-1 draw in Septem­ber was some­thing else, un­der that pres­sure. They’ve been phe­nom­e­nal.”

Daly was still part of the City squad when two of the cur­rent play­ing staff were mak­ing their first steps into the big time.

“Alan Ben­nett and Mark McNulty were just break­ing into the squad in my last years in the squad,” says Daly.

“Ben­nett won’t thank you for men­tion­ing that he played with me! But to be fair to Alan he al­ways looked des­tined for the top. Alan had ap­ti­tude, ap­pli­ca­tion, abil­ity, and be­lief — a real strength of mind.”

Since hang­ing up his boots for the club, Daly has be­come a fa­mil­iar face in the stands at Turner’s Cross.

“I’ve been go­ing to the Cross as a player and as a fan since around 1990 at this stage,” says Daly.

“When I re­tired as a player, I used to go there with my son and my fa­ther and now I go there with my son Conor.

“It’s like a ritual. I ab­so­lutely love it. Ev­ery year I can’t wait un­til the new sea­son starts. And al­ready with a few games to go un­til this sea­son ends and I’m won­der­ing what I’m go­ing to do on the Fri­day nights, just wait­ing for the new sea­son to start again.”

Fri­day nights at the Cross are more than just a chance to see the league cham­pi­ons. It’s also a place where Daly meets those that sol­diered along­side him in the 1990s.

“Most of us who played to­gether on the team that won the league in 1993 and from those years ac­tu­ally go down to Turner’s Cross as sup­port­ers, and that’s where we meet up.

“Turner’s Cross is a spe­cial place, and the at­mos­phere cre­ated right through this sea­son has been un­be­liev­able.”

City may be the best sup- ported club in the League of Ire­land but sil­ver­ware has been hard to come by down through the years.

The first title came in 1993 but it would be another 12 years for their next suc­cess and another 12 un­til this sea­son that they can now call them­selves cham­pi­ons once again.

Just like Cork City’s class of 2017, Daly knows all about get­ting to the top the hard way. In 1991, Cork were pipped at the post — by Dun­dalk, of all clubs, suf­fered a shat­ter­ing 1-0 home de­feat to the Lil­ly­whites on the last day of the 1991 league sea­son in front of 10,000 fans to miss out on the title.

Time soothes, but the agony of that de­feat to Dun­dalk never re­ally goes away.

“Back then, in the old dress­ing rooms at Turner’s Cross, you could see right into the op­po­si­tion dress­ing room,” re­calls Daly.

“Af­ter the match, I re­mem­ber look­ing across into the Dun­dalk dress­ing room and they were celebrating, the cham­pagne was be­ing sprayed around in the showers. Mean­while there we were, so down, af­ter look­ing like cham­pi­ons for so long that sea­son.

“The dif­fer­ence in emo­tions was in­cred­i­ble. You learn a lot from win­ning but you learn a lot los­ing too. When you’ve been down so low, the highs are so much bet­ter.”

Daly has worked in fi­nance vir­tu­ally all his adult life but even the Ul­ster Bank se­nior man­ager wouldn’t have had the num­ber crunch­ing skills to have worked out how City man­aged to claim that first ever League of Ire­land title in 1993.

City fin­ished level on points with Bohs and Shel­bourne — Bohs, who lost their last game of the sea­son, ac­tu­ally had the best goal dif­fer­ence but rules then did not al­low the title to be won on goal dif­fer­ence.

Af­ter a three-way play-off the teams could not be sep­a­rated, so af­ter a sec­ond se­ries of games the title went to Cork, cli­max­ing on a fa­mous night at the RDS.

“It was like the sea­son that went on for­ever,” re­calls Daly. “Bohs could have won it on the last day of the reg­u­lar sea­son by draw­ing at Dun­dalk, and Tom McNulty, who had scored to win the league at Turner’s Cross, ac­tu­ally scored for Dun­dalk to send it to play-off. You couldn’t make it up re­ally.

“I re­mem­ber the play-offs just seemed to go on and on, and you went through ev­ery range of emo­tions. “There was times when it seemed we had blown it and then another re­sult would mean we were back in it. When we won it at the RDS, it was just an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing.”

The class of 1993 didn’t win another League of Ire­land title; by the time the next came around in 2005, they had all re­tired. So what now for the class of 2017? Daly strikes a pos­i­tive note. “John has got a strong team be­hind him, and now they’ve brought in some big names into the youth set-up. The likes of Colin Healy, Cor­mac Cot­ter, Billy Woods, and Dan Mur­ray.

“Ev­ery year since John has come in, the team has im­proved its per­for­mances and I don’t see that trend chang­ing. They’ve strength­ened the play­ing squad each year and I see that hap­pen­ing again next sea­son.

“This is a spe­cial time to be a City fan. I played from 1985 to 2003 and in that time I played in two cup fi­nals. This team has just won the league and is play­ing in its third cup fi­nal in a row. The fu­ture looks very bright.

“John Caulfield has said this is a spe­cial time for the club, and he’s right. We’ve never had any­thing like this be­fore.”

Top, mem­bers of the Cork City league win­ning team of 1993 at a 20th an­niver­sary re­u­nion at the Cork In­ter­na­tional Air­port ho­tel – back from left, Philip Long, Cor­mac Cot­ter, Stephen Napier, Paul Ban­non, An­thony Buck­ley, Liam Mur­phy and Dave Barry,...

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