Familiarity a factor as City determined to deny Dundalk
Champions look to have edge in fourth final in a row between the sides
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.
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.
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