Tuesday 25 July 2017

Dundalk's Cork trip laced with emotion

Dundalk’s Patrick McEleney in action against Derry City recently. The former Candystripes star has been in fine form this season and will pose a big threat to John Caulfield’s Cork side today. Photo: Sportsfile
Dundalk’s Patrick McEleney in action against Derry City recently. The former Candystripes star has been in fine form this season and will pose a big threat to John Caulfield’s Cork side today. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

In any other week, the primary emotion ahead of a showdown between Cork City and Dundalk would be one of excitement.

They are the sides that have duked it out for three titles in a row and the two most recent FAI Cup deciders and the rivalry rose to another level when Sean Maguire's goal at the Aviva Stadium in November finally gave Cork a taste of winning a defining battle with the Louth men.

It means that both dressing rooms have bad memories to spur them for the year ahead.

A post-cup final speech from Cork goalkeeper Mark McNulty that offered his slightly caustic take on the plaudits Dundalk received for their European exploits indicated that the Leesiders feel they were due a bit of respect.

March 25 has been circled in plenty of diaries since the start of the season - a truly baffling piece of fixture scheduling given the proximity to Ireland's World Cup date last night - but it still hasn't prevented tickets from selling at a pace that should deliver a full house at Turner's Cross.

The atmosphere should still be intense, but the tragic death of Derry City's Ryan McBride has undoubtedly taken some of the edge out of the preliminaries. How could it not?

In a tight-knit league where players get to know each other well, and where a one-club man like McBride is a rarity, both camps have been touched by the shocking news that broke last Sunday.

Cork pair Stephen Dooley and Conor McCormack both made the move south from Derry and were given permission to attend Thursday's funeral.

Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny gave McBride his break in senior football during his second stint at Brandywell, and Derry-born duo Patrick McEleney and Michael Duffy also climbed the football ladder next to McBride having essentially grown up in the same generation. Niclas Vemmelund was also part of the Candystripes squad last term.

"This week has put everything in perspective," said Cork boss John Caulfield. "There's so many lads that played with him or played against him, the captain of Derry and probably their best player, just 27 years of age. It's hard to get your head around it.

"Being at home with a full house, the atmosphere will be incredible but we all know what happened at the start of the week and before the match that will be recognised.

"There is that emotional side to it and you have to talk to the players, deal with the situation and move onto a massive match."

Spirit

And that, ultimately, is their job. The community spirit within the league has come to the fore over the past six days, yet it's the competitive spirit that will come to the fore at three o'clock.

That and the quality that exists at the business end of the table. Cork come into this encounter with five wins from five whereas Dundalk have four from five - the solitary slip-up coming at the hands of a McBride-inspired Derry just 12 days ago.

They responded to defeat St Patrick's Athletic last week with the majestic McEleney grabbing a brace, the first of which will challenge his previous efforts for goal of the month with a solo run followed by a delightful finish.

McEleney is a threat that Cork will have to try and shut down, and it will be harder without the services of the injured Greg Bolger in his usual role in front of the back four.

But Caulfield has a potent weapon in the form of Maguire who has carried on from last year and scored six goals already this term with his brief 2015 spell as a Dundalk fringe operator now a distant memory.

He gave Paddy Barrett and Brian Gartland a tough time in the President's Cup at Turner's Cross last month, with Cork scoring three without response in what is essentially a glorified pre-season friendly. Nevertheless, combine it with Cork's triumph in the 2016 staging and the fact is that Caulfield's charges have won five of the last six meetings with their nemesis.

The Dundalk corner are quick to remind them, however, that the league table reflected the overall story of the year.

Kenny has made the point this week that the final margins in the 2015 and 2016 league races were 11 and seven points respectively. In other words, he believes the gap Cork have to close should be taken into consideration when people talk of a changing of the guard.

"They've had the upper hand the last couple of times but we've got three league titles and that's what matters at the end of the day," argued Barrett, speaking after the St Pat's encounter. "The league is not going to be won in this match - there's plenty more games to play and plenty more points to be dropped."

Yet both Kenny and Barrett have expressed the view that Cork have improved over the winter.

"There's no doubt they are a very good team and they have been over the last couple of years," continued Barrett, who has become a regular since the departure of Andy Boyle. "And they are probably playing their best football (in that time) now.

"They lost Kenny Browne but seem to be bringing in players that matched up to what they've lost.

"We don't need to get up for games against Cork. You are automatically fired up because of the rivalry and the atmosphere, there could be 7,000 people there and that brings up the levels, the intensity, and these are the things we thrive on."

Rest assured that the protagonists will cherish the opportunity to be a part of it.

Cork City v Dundalk Live RTE2, 3.0

Irish Independent

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