Fa­mil­iar­ity a fac­tor as City de­ter­mined to deny Dun­dalk

Cham­pi­ons look to have edge in fourth fi­nal in a row be­tween the sides

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER - Em­met Malone Soc­cer Cor­re­spon­dent

Cork City v Dun­dalk Aviva Sta­dium, Sun­day, 3.40pm Live on RTÉ 2

What­ever about its tongue-in-cheek claim to be the great­est league in the world, Dun­dalk and Cork City have cer­tainly man­aged to make the sea­son here one of the more sym­met­ri­cal with the Pres­i­dent’s and FAI Cup en­coun­ters be­tween the two clubs rather neatly book­end­ing cam­paigns they have dom­i­nated.

As the pair pre­pare for a fourth straight show­down at the Aviva Sta­dium, the nov­elty is long since gone. But, as Dun­dalk man­ager Stephen Kenny sug­gested this week, there is a deeper al­lure to a ri­valry that has be­come more in­tense over the course of the past few years.

In terms of the cup fi­nals, it could do with pro­vid­ing a lit­tle more en­ter­tain­ment. None of the three to date has ex­actly been a cracker with the two sides man­ag­ing just a goal ev­ery 90 min­utes be­tween them.

Oddly, not one one the four scor­ers from the past three years will be in­volved this time around al­though last year’s penalty shootout hero, Mark McNulty, seems cer­tain to have a big role to play again.

As both man­agers pre­dicted at the start of the week, their var­i­ous in­juries is­sues have cleared up as if by magic with Dun­dalk’s Pat Hoban the most se­ri­ous doubt when it comes to po­ten­tial starters.

Freak­ish mishap

The striker limped out of last week’s draw at Bo­hemi­ans after a slightly freak­ish mishap but Kenny says he has not given up hope, and the league’s top scorer is bound to be given ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to prove he is ca­pa­ble of playing a part in the run up to to­mor­row’s kick-off.

Kenny has qui­etly laid the blame for the rather up­tight na­ture of the re­cent fi­nals at City’s door. While man­ager John Caulfield rou­tinely thinks the crit­i­cism of his side’s tac­tics goes too far, he will not, one sus­pects, stray too far from a game plan that has con­tain­ing Dun­dalk’s more cre­ative play­ers as one its main com­po­nents.

The form all sea­son of Mickey Duffy and Pat McEleney, as he got back up to speed after his re­turn from Eng­land, will be of ma­jor con­cern but the sense that Hoban is not 100 per cent, even as­sum­ing he does play, will be seen as some­thing of a bonus by City.

Key role

Karl Shep­pard seems set to play some at least some part for them de­spite hav­ing strug­gled in re­cent weeks with a ham­string prob­lem while Steven Beattie is on course to start after hav­ing got an hour un­der his belt last week­end.

After a sea­son he ad­mits has been filled with frus­tra­tion due to a lack of game time, Alan Ben­nett will be at the heart of the City de­fence with the 37-year-old set to play a key role in en­sur­ing Caulfield’s men main­tain their com­po­sure against a side that won nar­rowly but very com­fort­ably when they last met in the league.

Ben­nett is look­ing for­ward to the chal­lenge and the oc­ca­sion, and, hav­ing de­cided that he will def­i­nitely play against next sea­son, will also be look­ing to make a point.

“I don’t think you can sit out [games] and be happy,” he says, “but it’s in­evitable, it re­ally is. That’s the worst thing about this job, one of the worst things; you are get­ting bet­ter in your head but worse in your body. You are in that sort of place where you are re­ally com­fort­able with your game as a per­son but your body is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing.”

Caulfield points to the team’s wider con­sis­tency as ev­i­dence that his play­ers have it in their col­lec­tive power to make it three wins in a row but the rea­son their blip proved so costly was be­cause Dun­dalk’s form had left City with so lit­tle room for ma­noeu­vre.

These two may well go down as two of Ire­land’s great teams and, for sure, we are wit­ness­ing one of the great­est ri­val­ries. But Dun­dalk’s ti­tle lat­est suc­cess will fuel a sense that they can even up the cup fi­nal tally here while clinch­ing an­other dou­ble.

Cork’s goal­keeper Mark McNulty is cer­tain to have a big role to play again

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