Nothing like magic of cup to liven up fading season
Published 24/08/2015 | 02:30
Cork City CEO Timmy Murphy was helping with the process of counting the gate receipts on Friday night when he heard an encouraging roar from the Turner's Cross crowd.
The goal that propelled the Leesiders towards a 4-0 thrashing of St Patrick's Athletic in their crucial FAI Cup tie came as a relief after a nervy first half.
For Murphy, and indeed for all League of Ireland administrators, departing the competition at this hurdle means the troubling prospect of an empty weekend in September without ticket revenue.
When a league campaign is losing intrigue, and the fixture schedule begins to decongest, every penny really does start to count.
Even an away draw in the quarter-final boosts the coffers for the survivors; once the FAI take their cut of 7.5pc (the association don't take that if the gate generates less than €3,200) the away side pockets 35pc of the remaining total with the home team collecting 65pc and shouldering all costs.
Hence, the depth of the anger at Bohemians on Friday when they lost to Bray thanks to a contentious goal - although replays have failed to prove conclusively that it was a bad decision.
Bohemians have been excellent this season yet they are now in fifth spot in the table, a no man's land. European qualification looks out of reach; relegation pressure is absent.
The cup offered a tangible reward for a year of progress and playing for pride is unlikely to draw big numbers to Dalymount as the evenings draw in and the chequered flag approaches.
At least the St Patrick's Athletic crew that made the long trip back to Dublin after a heavy reverse have an EA Sports Cup final and a fight to finish in the top three to look forward to.
For Cork, victory arrested a slide that has to have been a factor in a turnout of just 1,778. This was a drop from the 3,108 that turned up for the previous Friday's shock league defeat to Limerick.
Granted, the fact that season tickets do not apply to cup ties affected the figures; this is an issue around the country in the early rounds of the tournament. The 7.25 start for TV purposes didn't delight the organisers either.
However, considering 6,900 rammed into the venue for Dundalk's trip south in April, it's clear that Cork's floating fans tend to come and go rather easily.
"When you're winning everyone wants to applaud you, hug you and kiss and whatever, and when you lose a certain element just want to slag the team off and criticise people," said Caulfield afterwards.
"That's difficult because these are great guys, they work hard and have done fantastic for the club since I've come here."
Victory changes the language of the post-mortem.
The icing on the cake was Billy Dennehy's goalscoring comeback after seven weeks in the bad books which seemed certain to bring down the curtain on his Cork career.
With a different outcome, bringing the prodigal son off the bench late on might have been construed as a panicked last throw of the dice in response to a crisis.
It all worked out in the end, with the player suitably diplomatic as he discussed his absence.
"There was no falling out or anything like that," insisted Dennehy, who was bemused to find a media scrum waiting for him to advance from the dressing-room.
Mountains tend to turn into molehills when a team is winning. The Kerry native managed to give the impression that his well-documented exile was as serious as a row over the remote control.
There was a sense heading into the St Pat's encounter that Caulfield's Cork were at a crossroads and, while Dundalk may be out of sight in terms of the title picture, the possibilities in the cup should keep them in the local spotlight and ensure that crowds for the bread and butter encounters stay healthy.
In a bygone era, the magic of the cup was the opportunity for a day out on an early summer afternoon. Today, it exists as an antidote for the fears that accompany the onset of an autumn without major excitement.