Saturday 1 October 2016

Caulfield driven by passion to end Lilywhites' double dream

Published 07/11/2015 | 02:30

Cork City manager John Caulfield
Cork City manager John Caulfield

The spike in attendances that followed his appointment reflected the esteem in which John Caulfield is held by fans of Cork City.

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A league challenge in his first season and another second-place finish this time around are a measure of the progress that has been made under his stewardship.

The 51-year-old is well aware, however, that the people of Cork demand more. 2015 will not be remembered fondly if the Leesiders fail to upset the odds at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow.

Caulfield quit a safe job in Diageo to return to the club where he made his name on a full-time basis. His nearest and dearest questioned the decision.

"My wife might be giving me an earache, saying 'You're daft, you shouldn't have gone into that, you should take a nice handy job' but I suppose I never looked at it that way," he says.

"To me, it's not about money. It's about passion. I love the League of Ireland. I love managing. If I hadn't taken the job and stayed where I was previously, in 10 years' time I'd be looking back saying I should have done it."

Clearly, his employers are satisfied with his work, hence their decision to award him a new two-year contract in September. However, not every fan has been satisfied with Caulfield's performance as Dundalk pulled clear at the top of the table.

The consistency that was evident last term deserted the Leesiders at important junctures, and a dreadfully disappointing European exit that coincided with a row with key player Billy Dennehy was always going to draw attention.

"If you look at the bigger picture from where we were two years ago, we've come a long way," Caulfield argues. "But we're all greedy. Supporters are greedy. When we had the conversation about the extension, I did say to the board: If you don't feel I'm going in the right direction, tell me now. I can go back to a day job.

"I suppose the uniqueness about Cork is that Cork has a fantastic sports following, but they just want success and they want it now. And while you have a hardcore of supporters who'll go week in and week out, why do we go from 2,500 one week to 7,000 the next?

"That's the reality. It's nothing I didn't expect coming in. I didn't think everyone would be patting me on the back. If you ask me do I think about getting the sack? I don't," he continued.

"Do I think there's going to be a day next year or the year after when the club will say your time is up? Quite possible. But, as I keep saying, I'm practical and realistic. If results aren't good enough, fine."

Getting a significant result against Dundalk is all that's eluded him. Their head-to-head record with the Louthmen was the difference in the 2014 title race. This year, a loss and two draws was an improvement, yet there's still a sense that Stephen Kenny's charges have the edge on their southern rivals. Richie Towell said as much when the final line-up was confirmed.

It has the makings of an intriguing contest. Cork can take heart from the fact they've come from behind in their two most recent jousts given that Dundalk have an ability to really open up on teams who are forced to chase the game.

Both managers have doubts over important midfield players with the champions sweating on Stephen O'Donnell and Caulfield wondering whether to risk Liam Miller and Colin Healy.

Cork have no shortage of experience in the ranks and Dundalk's sense of adventure can leave gaps which players like Karl Sheppard and Mark O'Sullivan can exploit.

Still, the argument for Dundalk slipping up relies on Kenny's men suffering from a bit of stage-fright on the big occasion.

The manner in which they've dealt with previous challenges suggests they should relish the arena and, should this decider go the distance, their pace and energy levels should increase their prospects. History beckons.

Verdict: Dundalk

Dundalk (probable) - Rogers, Gannon, Boyle, Gartland, Massey; Shields, Towell; Mountney, Finn, Horgan; McMillan.

Cork (probable) - McNulty, Dunleavy, Bennett, D Dennehy, O'Connor; Murray, Miller; B Dennehy, Buckley, Sheppard; O'Sullivan.

Dundalk v Cork City, Live RTE2, tomorrow 3.30

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