Dun­dalk aim to re­gain up­per hand in lat­est chap­ter

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER - EM­MET MALONE

Preview Dun­dalk v Cork City Aviva Sta­dium, to­mor­row, 3.30 Live on RTÉ 2 His­tory may ul­ti­mately judge it to have been oth­er­wise but in the here and now the ri­valry be­tween Cork City and Dun­dalk cer­tainly feels like some­thing spe­cial. Hav­ing just fin­ished a fourth straight league cam­paign as the Pre­mier Di­vi­sion’s top two sides, to­mor­row at 3.30pm John Caulfield and Stephen Kenny go head to head in a third suc­ces­sive cup fi­nal.

The south­ern­ers, it has been fairly plain to see, have been en­joy­ing fi­nally hav­ing the up­per hand. Af­ter claim­ing that the tide started to turn when Seán Maguire scored his side’s late win­ner at the Aviva last sea­son, Caulfield might want to win this one as much to de­prive his op­po­site num­ber of a sim­i­lar op­por­tu­nity now as for the lit­tle bit of his­tory he would write by be­com­ing the first man­ager to lead City to the double.

“Ul­ti­mately for us, it was all about the league,” says the former striker who sug­gests the par­tic­u­lar in­ten­sity of the games be­tween th­ese two is what tends to make them so spe­cial.

“So, are we un­der the pres­sure that we were last year? Not at all, be­cause we’ve al­ready won the league and qual­i­fied for the Cham­pi­ons League. That’s what we wanted. The cup,” he con­cludes, “has just been a bonus.”

Im­por­tant part

Still, win­ning it last year, he be­lieves, played an im­por­tant part in keep­ing Maguire at the club for the first half of this sea­son along with ev­ery­thing else that has flowed since, and both sides will take what they can get when it comes to per­suad­ing play­ers to stay or join for next sea­son.

Po­si­tion­ing is al­ready well ad­vanced at both clubs, with one or two of the prospec­tive moves even hav­ing the po­ten­tial to cast a bit of a shadow over to­mor­row’s team selections.

Karl Shep­pard is, most ob­vi­ously, widely be­lieved to be on the way to Oriel Park in the win­ter, with Ro­nan Mur­ray ex­pected to re­place him.

David McMil­lan may well head to Scot­land while Kenny says he is still hop­ing to keep Ni­clas Vem­melund at the club de­spite it be­ing the cen­tral de­fender’s stated in­ten­tion to leave.

“You never know with th­ese things,” says the Dun­dalk boss, “but Den­mark is his home, his girl­friend is there and th­ese things are all a fac­tor. Home is call­ing him.” Well, there and Rosen­borg, it seems.

Dif­fer­ent kind

Kenny, who has Steven Kin­sella out, John Mount­ney com­ing back and Chris Shields bat­tling to prove he is ca­pa­ble of play­ing a part, ac­knowl­edges that City have had a good year and that that makes to­mor­row a big day of a slightly dif­fer­ent kind for his play­ers.

“We had the up­per hand, win­ning the league here in 2014, that big epic fi­nale; then win­ning the double in 2015, last year win­ning the big game here to win the league with Daryl Hor­gan’s two bril­liant goals.

“This year has been dif­fer­ent. They have taken seven from nine in the three games and we haven’t beaten Cork this year, so it’s a big chal­lenge for us.”

It is not, he in­sists, about him and Caulfield, though. “No, I don’t look at is as an in­di­vid­ual man­age­rial ri­valry thing, it’s about rais­ing stan­dards. They’ve pushed us the last few years, there’s been some great matches and this sea­son, ob­vi­ously, they’ve been suc­cess­ful. Now we’ve got to go again. That’s the na­ture of sport.”

He greets a ques­tion about whether a close per­sonal bond has de­vel­oped be­tween the pair of them along the way with a look of com­plete be­wil­der­ment.

“Not re­ally,” says Kenny, whose fam­ily is still based in Done­gal. “We’re at op­po­site ends of the coun­try. It’s a Malin Head and Mizen Head sort of sit­u­a­tion. We could go on that cy­cle.”

John Caulfield: Af­ter the league ti­tle “the cuphas just been a bonus”

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