Club in­sid­ers on mov­ing Cork City to the next level

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - FRONT PAGE - Ni­amh O’Ma­hony The au­thor is a for­mer sec­re­tary and board mem­ber of FORAS and is now act­ing CEO of Sup­port­ers Di­rect Europe, an or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­mot­ing fan own­er­ship of foot­ball clubs across Europe.

I’ve been a mem­ber of FORAS, the sup­port­ers’ trust that owns and runs Cork City FC, right from the be­gin­ning in 2008 and served as a board mem­ber and vol­un­teer in the years since. I love the idea that peo­ple can come to­gether and do some­thing for the col­lec­tive ben­e­fit of their city and county, putting aside their own in­ter­ests to demon­strate that there is a bet­ter way to go about your busi­ness in modern-day foot­ball. A club can and must be in­clu­sive, open to all, and put its peo­ple (play­ers, sup­port­ers, staff, and lo­cal com­mu­nity alike) first and never last.

David O’Leary and Italia 90 in­tro­duced me to the beau­ti­ful game but it was Cork City FC and Foras that showed me what be­ing part of a foot­ball club ac­tu­ally means. City has been part of our up­bring­ing and once Dad, who grew up on Der­ry­nane Road and the streets around Turner’s Cross, took us down to our first game over two decades ago now, my younger brother and I were hooked.

At the end of ev­ery sea­son, I al­ways linger for a few mo­ments to take in the sight of Turner’s Cross on a flood­lit evening — the sear­ing light, the glossy green of the pitch, the calm fol­low­ing the storm. It still takes my breath away each time, just a lit­tle. Add in the faces of the mem­bers, vol­un­teers, staff, and play­ers that have made our club what it is to­day, and a lump of im­mense pride will catch my throat.

The ‘we might ac­tu­ally do this’ mo­ment

There are two com­mon clichés about cham­pi­onship-win­ning teams. One, title win­ners have a strong de­fence; two, win­ning when you don’t per­form on the day is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial in achiev­ing ul­ti­mate glory. Late May, 1-0 down away to Sligo Rovers and Seanie Maguire has missed a penalty, leav­ing City head­ing into the fi­nal half-hour of the game in right trou­ble. A tap-in against his for­mer club from Achille Cam­pion and a late win­ner di­rectly from Kevin O’Con­nor’s cor­ner clinched all three points though — show­ing the team pos­sessed the com­po­sure to see out games and, vi­tally, the abil­ity to nick a win when for­tunes seemed to be lean­ing another way.

Player of the sea­son

Seanie Maguire is the ob­vi­ous can­di­date here on ac­count of his goals tally and general play, but he did move on to pas­tures new in July. In­stead, the man that made ev­ery­thing tick over in front of the back four all sea­son long was Conor McCormack. Ar­riv­ing from Derry City, the mid­fielder had to bat­tle to get any game time for the Rebel Army ini­tially but af­ter mak­ing an early im­pres­sion at cen­tre back and then full back, the Louth man quickly be­came in­dis­pens­able.

Come­back of the sea­son

There has al­ways been a bite to City v Rovers fix­tures over the years, and the tal­ented Trevor Clarke stunned Turner’s Cross with a sub­lime in­di­vid­ual goal to open the scor­ing when the two sides met on Lee­side back in May. City’s re­sponse was im­me­di­ate and once Ryan De­laney got his side back on level terms, there was only one team push­ing for vic­tory. The 4-1 win was se­cured thanks to a crack­ing goal from the right boot of Gearóid Mor­ris­sey, a sec­ond from De­laney, and a fine header from cap­tain John Dun­leavy but it was the per­for­mance, re­ac­tion, and clin­i­cal fin­ish­ing that set down a marker.

Euro­pean suc­cess

Another away win in Europe. Cork City have recorded just five away wins in Europe through­out their his­tory and a hardy bunch of about 30 sup­port­ers got to wit­ness vic­tory num­ber five when they trav­elled to Parnu in Es­to­nia back in July. I’ve seen three of those five wins, and each one is spe­cial. League of Ire­land clubs ven­ture into the rel­a­tive un­known dur­ing the early rounds of Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion each year and be­ing drawn against Le­va­dia Tallinn — ex­pe­ri­enced Euro­pean per­form­ers in their own right

— was no easy task. Owned and run by a Rus­sian busi­ness­man, it was fas­ci­nat­ing to see the re­ac­tion of club of­fi­cials as the Foras ‘one mem­ber, one vote’ co-op­er­a­tive model was ex­plained. The idea of per­mit­ting a foot­ball man­ager en­tire con­trol over his play­ing bud­get seemed in­cred­u­lous to the man foot­ing the bill in Tallinn, but a 2-0 away win (6-2 on ag­gre­gate) was enough to se­cure pro­gres­sion to the sec­ond qual­i­fy­ing round, a de­cent Euro­pean prize money cheque for a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year, as well as a tie against AEK Lar­naca of Cyprus. Euro­pean games are more than a chance to se­cure vi­tal in­come though. They raise the pro­file of League of Ire­land clubs, give us a chance to proudly sup­port our own over­seas, and, very of­ten, at­tracts the ir­reg­u­lar fol­low­ers into the ground for some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. Long may they con­tinue.

One for the fu­ture

Com­ing up through City’s un­der­age ranks, Conor McCarthy made his se­nior de­but last sea­son be­fore fo­cus­ing on his Leav­ing Cert and then sign­ing his first pro­fes­sional con­tract with the club at the be­gin­ning of the sum­mer. The young de­fender, capped at in­ter­na­tional un­der age level, is com­fort­able across the back four but his job in man-mark­ing ex-City man Chiedozie Og­bene — who had caused Caulfield’s side all sorts of prob­lems dur­ing the league clash in Markets Field the pre­vi­ous week — in the FAI Cup semi-fi­nal was sim­ply out­stand­ing. The 19-year-old has shown him­self to be calm, com­posed, and a very ca­pa­ble leader al­ready. A stel­lar fu­ture seems as­sured.

Goal of the sea­son

Karl Shep­pard v Bo­hemi­ans City. Fans have wit­nessed plenty of goals and sev­eral ex­cel­lent fin­ishes but none were as im­pres­sive as Shep­pard’s ex­quis­ite vol­ley against Bo­hemi­ans in Da­ly­mount Park on Good Fri­day.

Watch­ing from be­hind the goal, my first ini­tial re­sponse on see­ing Shepp line up to hit it first time was one of anx­i­ety, fol­lowed very quickly by amaze­ment and delir­ium.

Maguire’s goals

The words still echo in all our ears and City fans ev­ery­where will hope to hear it ring­ing around the Aviva for years to come. ‘Seanie’s on fire’ be­came a state­ment of fact for the first half of the sea­son as the striker’s po­tent form left de­fend­ers, mid­field­ers, goal­keep­ers, and even his own team-mates for dead. For con­text, in the first five months of the sea­son, Maguire equalled the club’s record of 20 league goals in a sea­son (now held jointly with Pat Morley), be­fore leav­ing for Pre­ston in time for their pre­sea­son fix­tures. It was a priv­i­lege to watch Seanie don the green, white, and red of City for 18 months and his goal in the FAI Cup fi­nal at the Aviva last Novem­ber will go down in the an­nals of club his­tory. Watch­ing him move on has been bit­ter­sweet — no one can wish him any­thing but the best of luck but it’s also en­tirely frus­trat­ing that he needed to move across the Ir­ish Sea be­fore get­ting his tal­ents ac­knowl­edged at se­nior in­ter­na­tional level. Pre­ston are a fine club but their train­ing meth­ods and league fix- tures can­not wholly trans­form a player’s qual­ity in just over two months. Hope­fully we’ll see Seanie at a World Cup next sum­mer.

Pic­ture of the sea­son

Caulfield hugs Sean Maguire. A sig­nif­i­cant amount of credit for City’s league win will be as­signed to Maguire’s goals; how­ever, that un­der­val­ues the con­tri­bu­tions of the rest of the squad as well as John Caulfield, his man­age­ment team, and club staff. The man­ager has revitalised the club since ar­riv­ing in 2013 — his ded­i­ca­tion, hard work, and ob­ses­sion for get­ting ev­ery de­tail right apparent from the very first con­ver­sa­tion I had with him once he was ap­pointed. Be­ing the gaffer is a tough role. John bears the brunt of high ex­pec­ta­tions and few will ever see the im­pact of small, sub­tle con­ver­sa­tions and de­ci­sions be­hind the scenes.

We did get some in­sight from the glow­ing tributes that Maguire paid to Caulfield on his de­par­ture. The 23-year-old was con­sid­er­ing quit­ting foot­ball un­til he spoke with the CCFC boss and made the de­ci­sion to move to Cork in 2015. The pair’s re­la­tion­ship is best cap­tured as they em­brace while Sean leaves the pitch in a Cork City jer­sey for the last time back in July.

Spe­cial men­tions

Both Mark ‘Su­per Keeper’ McNulty and Gearóid Mor­ris­sey have been with the club since those ini­tial Foras days, and were vi­tal cogs in a welloiled ma­chine this sea­son. McNulty has been in top form, mak­ing vi­tal saves and mar­shalling his de­fence while Mor­ris­sey’s abil­ity on the ball is sec­ond to none, mak­ing him one of the most tal­ented mid­fielder’s in the league.

A THROW­BACK: While Seanie Maguire com­manded most head­lines, over the course of the full sea­son, was ex- Derry City man Conor McCormack City’s MVP for his drive and ver­sa­til­ity?

Pic­ture: Dave Ma­her

SPE­CIAL MO­MENT: John Caulfield bids an emo­tional farewell to Seanie Maguire af­ter the striker’s fi­nal game v Bray in July.

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