Daniel McDonnell: Cork City buzz exposes Dublin issues
Irish football in healthier place when the Rebels are vying for centre stage
Published 27/04/2015 | 02:30
There was a vibrancy around Turner's Cross on Friday evening that confirmed a well-worn cliché.
It's a statement that is frequently uttered in League of Ireland discussions, generally when a club with a bit of history is going well. We are told that the league needs a strong Shamrock Rovers or a strong Sligo Rovers or a strong Bohemians or a strong Galway.
What the last two seasons have brought home, however, is that more than any other club, this league needs a strong Cork.
When the going is good, the Leesiders can generate a level of interest which tackles the validity of concerns that others raise about poor attendances.
They sold out the stadium for the visit of Dundalk, with almost 7,000 people cramming into the ground despite the fact that the game was live on television. It just goes to show that when the product is attractive, excuses evaporate.
TV matches can act as a drain on attendances, and it is daft that no compensation is offered, but if people are willing to stay in because a game is on the box, it would suggest they have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude to the occasion.
Match nights in Cork are a social event as well as a football experience and, to borrow a slogan from another sport, it would appear that the local public are currently operating off the premise that nothing beats being there.
Their team did lose on Friday to a superb Dundalk outfit that have burst out of the blocks with a determination and quality which could make them the first provincial club to retain the league crown since Waterford did so in 1973.
Still, the Cork hierarchy had reason to go home with a sense of satisfaction about the buzz they have managed to create, a genuine enthusiasm which is one of the few genuine good news stories in Irish football at the moment.
Dave Barry's TV comments about the 'Dublin media' underestimating the ability of John Caulfield's side because they rarely venture south caused some mirth, yet it is undeniably true that we in the national press do miss out on something by only making the journey sporadically for reasons of geography.
The national media is largely based in Dublin because that's where most of the action is. In football terms, that's where the power tends to consistently lie too; 15 of the last 20 league titles have gone to teams in the capital.
But, as Caulfield pointed out in the aftermath of the Dundalk game, it is alarming that success has failed to act as a magnet for fans in Dublin; his paymasters were taken aback by the modest crowd at Inchicore for their recent visit. This is becoming a major problem for the perception of the league.
"Without the provincial teams, this league is nowhere," argued Caulfield.
"We are the biggest club out there. Historically, Shamrock Rovers have won more trophies but we are the biggest club in the league. I get disappointed when I watch a lot of the games in Dublin because I look at the teams getting 1,200, 1,300 or 1,400 people and they're near the top of the table and I'm asking 'why aren't they marketing their club?', 'why aren't they bringing kids to the game?' Bar Rovers, there is no-one in Dublin who attracts crowds any more."
Unprompted, he continued his lengthy observations on the state of the nation by introducing the counterpoint.
"Now people might say you're in Cork, you've one club in the city," he mused.
"But Dublin has four times the population and the clubs are in areas with huge, huge populations.
"I feel at times that the boat has been missed in Dublin with the League of Ireland in the sense that you go around the country, you go to Sligo, you come here, you see the passion, you see the crowds, without those clubs, there's no crowds around."
It is increasingly difficult to disagree with his point of view and it's inconceivable that a showdown of similar importance in April would create a comparable atmosphere in Dublin.
Hordes of punters were congregated on the streets at 6pm and the Shed was full enough to loudly heckle the Dundalk squad when they jogged out to warm up. Not that it bothered them.
When the league's players are surveyed about their favourite arena, Turner's Cross tends to come out on top.
"There's four stands," said Dundalk midfielder Chris Shields last week in a simple but accurate appraisal of what makes the venue an attractive shop window.
This is one ground where you don't have to worry about a good goal being ruined by the backdrop of a housing estate, parked cars or just vast expanses of nothingness.
Of course, while Cork have all the ingredients to get it right and function as the poster boy, historically they've proved spectacularly adept at getting it wrong.
The signs are promising in this regime, though, with the fan-dominated FORAS structure and rotating board offering fresh ideas. They are ticking a lot of the boxes by having the right mix of a manager with a strong local connection and a squad with a good sprinkling of players from the region.
Still, it required the appointment of Caulfield and a title challenge to make turning a profit realistic and budget projections of crowds in the 2,500-3,000 territory highlight the risk of poor performances.
The ambition for CEO Timmy Murphy and his team, as odd as it may sound, is to be in a position where they can afford the cost of a bad year.
League glory in 2005 was followed by a spell of extraordinary turbulence that required the pressing of the reset button.
In these pages before, we touched on the brilliant book written by ex-City player Neal Horgan that chronicled the demise.
Crowds occasionally gathered for a show of defiance during the Arkaga and Tom Coughlan eras, singing a repetitive song about their club being in the wrong hands.
They dance to a different tune now that they appear to be in the right hands. The potential is limitless.