Play our best and we'll beat Dundalk, insists Caulfield
Cork City manager John Caulfield is sure that his team will beat Dundalk in Sunday's FAI Cup final if they hit their peak performance level.
And he doesn't believe that Dundalk's unusual preparation - a Europa League tie with Zenit St Petersburg tomorrow - will have any impact on their contribution to the Aviva Stadium showdown.
Stephen Kenny's side have held the edge over Cork since their rivalry developed in 2014 and attracted plaudits from far and wide as they go in search of another double in tandem with European excellence.
But the opposing boss feels that a much-improved Cork operation are more than capable of getting the job done if they play to their own potential.
"I think if we're at our best, we'll win the match," said Caulfield, without hesitation, at the Leesiders' media day in Cork International Airport Hotel.
Unlike the Cork side which lost the decider at the Aviva 12 months ago, the class of 2016 have experience of beating the Lilywhites twice in the league this term. However, they came up short at Oriel Park in their decisive meeting three weeks ago and need a win this Sunday to deliver silverware from a campaign of progression.
Dundalk have a daunting game in Russia to contend with before they can focus minds on the renewal of rivalries. But Caulfield insisted that he would rather be in St Petersburg than have a clear run into the encounter.
"Absolute not," was his two-word response to the suggestion that Cork's uninterrupted prep gives them the edge. "The league was won two weeks ago. They've been able to rest players.
"They are professional players and they will come back on Friday. We know they'll be at their best on Sunday.
"Would I like to be in Zenit on Thursday playing Europa League? I certainly would. That's where you want to be. They'll be at their best; what we have to make sure on Sunday is that we are because we'll need to be to win."
While Dundalk's preparations for the trip to Russia were complicated by a five-hour delay to their outbound flight yesterday, Cork's main concerns this week are injuries to Garry Buckley (hamstring) and Mark O'Sullivan (knee).
Caulfield is not worried about any mental scars hanging over from the pain of coming so close in the league and falling short again to a Dundalk side that has pipped them to the post for three years on the trot.
"In the dressing room at the moment, you have seven fellas that weren't there last year," he stressed. "And Steven Beattie was cup-tied. They see themselves as the new era moving forward winning trophies.
"Obviously someone like Mark McNulty (long-serving 'keeper) is bloody frustrated and I hope he is. At the same time there's an enthusiasm and a will to win to the group and it is going to happen. They've done really well, they're really close and they're doing everything to see on Sunday if they can turn it over. That's where it's at really."
Caulfield has been vocal across the year about the fact that Cork have been the only entity to really push the champions.
And he believes that strong European performances from both clubs - they exited the Europa League to a decent Genk team - should be the catalyst for a broader debate about the direction of the game here that is focused on setting the bar high even if it means that some clubs will naturally fall away.
"This is the best opportunity we've had," he stressed. "You don't start with your standards low. You start with high standards, your criteria.
"The clubs that want to do that will drive on. The clubs that don't won't and that's the way it is. Obviously, you would probably think it would mean fewer teams. So be it.
"I've been quite vocal about it. I wish other managers were. Some are maybe happy to just collect their wages and not say anything.
"But I think they have a responsibility to the league and to show passion to drive it forward."
This week, though, his mission is to take Dundalk down a peg or two.