Cork’s loyal fans and their un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated man­ager fi­nally get the tro­phy they de­serve

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT -

THE hur­ri­cane-bat­tered stand at Turner’s Cross pro­vided the per­fect back­drop for Cork City to fi­nally clinch the League of Ire­land ti­tle on Tues­day night. For one thing it rep­re­sented the some­what be­lea­guered look of John Caulfield’s side over the last few weeks as, hav­ing built up an ap­par­ently unas­sail­able lead, they made ex­tremely heavy weather of tak­ing the fi­nal steps to glory.

At times City seemed like a darts player who kept miss­ing dou­ble af­ter dou­ble to end a game yet kept get­ting ad­di­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties be­cause his op­po­nent was so far be­hind. That they won the ti­tle with a 0-0 draw seemed en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate in the light of re­cent tra­vails.

I even asked some­one last week if they thought Cork’s stut­ter­ing runin would to some ex­tent knock the good out of their ti­tle vic­tory. “Not if you sup­port them,” said your man, which struck me as an ex­tremely wise an­swer. Be­cause that buck­led stand also rep­re­sents a pretty good me­taphor for the re­silience which City’s fans have had to show over the past decade or so.

It is, af­ter all, just seven years since the club was wound up and looked about to fol­low Cork Hibs, Cork Celtic and Cork Al­berts into ex­tinc­tion. That this did not hap­pen was due to the ef­forts of sup­port­ers who en­tered a team called Cork City FORAS Co-Op into that year’s first divi­sion and sub­se­quently re­gained the rights to the club name. There can be a ten­dency to be dis­mis­sive about sup­port­ers’ or­gan­i­sa­tions yet this one saved a club.

Those fans also went on to make Turner’s Cross the most ex­cit­ing venue in the league, turn­ing up in num­bers which were the envy of ev­ery other club, giv­ing the place an at­mos­phere not repli­cated any­where else in do­mes­tic soc­cer. If ever League of Ire­land fans de­served a ti­tle, it is the faith­ful at the Cross.

It re­mains a sup­porter-owned club and long may this be the case.

This be­ing so, quib­bling about the man­ner in which City ac­tu­ally clinched the ti­tle seems a prime ex­am­ple of miss­ing the point.

Sug­gest­ing that in some way Cork got a soft ti­tle also ig­nores what hap­pened in re­cent League of Ire­land sea­sons. Three years in a row Dun­dalk played foot­ball of a stan­dard pre­vi­ously un­seen in the league, their Euro­pean ex­ploits prov­ing just how ex­cel­lent they were. Yet in all of those sea­sons City chased the cham­pi­ons all the way, mak­ing the ti­tle come down to the very last game of 2014 and re­main­ing the Li­ly­whites’ only se­ri­ous ri­vals af­ter that. Those City teams would have won the ti­tle in quite a few of pre­vi­ous League of Ire­land sea­sons. So when Dun­dalk fal­tered this sea­son City were the per­fect heirs. The sheer power of their play in the first half should not be for­got­ten. In a way they ended up as a vic­tims of their own suc­cess, it was ob­vi­ous from a long way out that the ti­tle would be theirs which meant that the in­ten­sity of their spec­tac­u­lar start would hardly be repli­cated.

A drop-off was likely and the loss of Sean Maguire made it in­evitable. Dun­dalk’s all-time record of 78 goals in a sea­son, set in 2015, ended up elud­ing Cork by a large mar­gin.

Yet there’s noth­ing too shabby about City’s record, with two games left they have amassed 73 points and may yet sur­pass Dun­dalk’s ti­tle win­ning to­tal of 77 from last sea­son and 74 from 2014.

They are wor­thy cham­pi­ons and it is im­pos­si­ble not to feel de­lighted for Caulfield (pic­tured) who, hav­ing come sec­ond to Stephen Kenny three years in a row, fi­nally has his time in the lime­light.

I some­times think that Caulfield is a bit un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated in Cork and that, like Conor Couni­han or Ian Bar­a­clough, his con­tri­bu­tion may only be ap­pre­ci­ated when he’s gone. So here’s a bit of ad­vice for City fans: If there’s a club meet­ing and some guy starts sug­gest­ing that if Cork want to move on to the next level they should con­sider re­plac­ing the man­ager who’s just brought them their first ti­tle in 12 years, get hold of that guy, take him out to Spike Is­land and leave him there.

Trust me, I know where this kind of talk leads.

This time five years ago Sligo Rovers were the ones cel­e­brat­ing a league ti­tle. This sea­son suc­cess for the Bit O’Red will be the avoid­ance of rel­e­ga­tion.

Make the most of those glory days be­cause this is a mer­ci­less league. Mis­takes put you back at square one pretty quick.

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