Cork drawing on underdog status as title race hots up
Manager Caulfield claims Leesiders have been prematurely written off by the pundits
WITH five series of games to go, it is Cork City's refusal to go away that has added intrigue to the conclusion of this Airtricity League season.
John Caulfield started his first year in charge at Turner's Cross playing down expectations, but now he is rallying the troops by pointing out that few are giving them a chance of reducing the three-point deficit between themselves and long-term leaders Dundalk.
The Louth club have a superior goal difference so, in reality, the challenge for the Leesiders is to be within two points heading into their potentially seismic meeting at the final day of the season at Oriel Park.
Given how they are just one Dundalk slip away from being inside touching distance, Caulfield pointed out that anything is possible ahead of a night when his charges welcome Sligo Rovers to Turner's Cross. Dundalk visit Belfield to play a relegation-threatened UCD side that is coming off the back of a three week break.
"Nobody has given us any chance at all at any stage of the season," observed Caulfield. "And even the fact we're down to the last five matches and we're only three behind, we're still not given much chance.
"A lot of the people making those statements have probably watched Dundalk more than they've watched us. But we can't afford to drop points. If we do, we hand the title to them."
For Dundalk, this fixture is followed by the novelty of a two-week break at this stage of the battle due to their exit from the FAI Cup.
That will allow them to recharge the batteries before three games in seven days at the other end of it.
UCD boss Aaron Callaghan hopes that his team's rest will prime them for causing a shock.
"It's been strange but the break has probably done them no harm," he said. "It has given lads with knocks a chance to recover and hopefully they will be raring to go."
At the start of the season, a scan of the fixture list would likely have reached the conclusion that the Inchicore meeting of St Patrick's Athletic and Shamrock Rovers would be of most relevance to the title race.
Instead, they are engaged in a race for third spot and a place in Europe, although if they both win their home FAI Cup semi-finals then it won't matter so much.
As it stands, the Saints are seven points ahead with a game more played. Whatever the stakes, the recent history between these sides should ensure a feisty encounter.
Internationals Keith Fahey and Stephen McPhail were both dismissed in a tense 2-1 triumph for the Hoops in July.
Pat Fenlon has since taken control and is looking for a response from his players after a sloppy showing in the 1-1 draw with Bohemians on Tuesday. Full-back Simon Madden knows they have to lift it.
"We weren't good enough, we were just a bit flat," he confessed. "The good thing is that we have another game so quickly to put it right.
"This club has to get European football. Whether it's winning the cup or finishing third, we've a lot to play for until the end of the season."
Limerick have little left at stake as they prepare for a trip to Dalymount Park and a clash with a Bohs side in a similar scenario.
There was something for the Shannonsiders to celebrate yesterday, though, when talented striker Rory Gaffney was named SSE Airtricity/SWAI Player of the Month for August.
Gaffney (24) has developed into one of the leading poachers in the country and is sure to attract attention over the winter. He says there have been no contract talks with Limerick.
"I wouldn't like to comment on it," said the Galwegian, who would love his county's club to get back in the top flight considering all the different players they have scattered around the country.
"My dream was always to play for Galway United," he said. "Look around the league and there's no reason why you wouldn't be able to get a strong side together of Galway players.
"Daryl Horgan and Pat Hoban are up in Dundalk and they're flying, they're two of the best players in Ireland and still relatively young - I'd like to see them go on to play in England, but also I'd hope at some stage they'd come back to Galway."
For now, Gaffney must find the motivation to finish this season strongly while others fight it out for the big prizes.