'Genk are a €30million club, we run Cork on €1.2million a year' - John Caulfield realistic following narrow defeat
Genk 1 Cork City 0
It will now take the biggest result in their European history for Cork City to overcome a classy Genk outfit and move into the next round of the Europa League.
Cork were beaten, but not beaten out the gate, away to Genk last night, the difference between the sides a first-half goal from teenage superstar Leon Bailey - and make no mistake, this boy will be a star, at a club much bigger than Genk, very soon.
The tie remains alive for the second leg in Cork next week and while City boss John Caulfield, proud of his "shattered" players after the game, is realistic enough to know that Genk remain favourites to advance, his side are still in the frame.
Removing lapses of concentration and having a more clinical edge in front of goal would have helped Cork last night and could aid them for the home leg, the regret for Cork in the fact that their chances, especially a good effort from Gearóid Morrissey late on, didn't yield a goal.
"If you go to the bookies now, you'd back Genk," Caulfield admitted after the game. "But no one thought we'd beat Hacken in the last round and that's the beauty of football, you never know what'll happen.
"If we play to our maximum and if their star players don't play as well as they can, then of course we have a chance, but if they play to the best of their ability, then the best team will win.
"We're not stupid, we know the level is different, Genk have better players than us, playing at a higher standard - but you need spirit and fight, and we have loads of that.
"We knew we'd have to defend well and see could we get chances on the counter attack, but in matches like this you need to take your chances. We still had opportunities, as we might in games like this but when you get opportunities, you have to take them and we didn't."
The 21,000-capacity stadium in Genk was less than half full - in fact they had a crowd of just 7,765 - when Cork kicked off the game but no matter the surroundings, this was always going to be a tough night for City. And a lapse in concentration from Cork on the half-hour mark gifted Genk their goal, 18-year-old Jamaican import Bailey punishing City.
Bailey is a real talent in the making, and it's no wonder that Belgium are making a big play to bring him into their national team fold even though he was born and raised in Jamaica.
Genk have had to do a lot of work to keep him on their books, as there was the possibility of him being deported as a 15-year-old as he had to go into hiding, having been left high and dry (and in Belgium illegally) by a crooked agent who would go on to fake his own kidnapping.
If he does move on, it will be for another big fee, underlining the gap between the two clubs, according to Caulfield.
"Genk are a €30million club, selling players all over the world, we run our club on €1.2m a year, so for us to be still in the tie and with an outside chance is fantastic for us," said the City boss.
The expectant home fans only had to wait 30 and a few more minutes for that expected lead goal, Bailey punishing Cork for indecision in the box when Michael McSweeney was unable to clear and Bailey didn't hesitate before blasting the ball past McNulty.
Cork had by no means thrown in the towel and retained their shape into the second half, breaking out to make the some side sweat. On 51 minutes Alan Bennett got his head to an O'Connor corner kick but the effort was off-target. There was better from City on 53 minutes, Beattie working his way into an attacking position and sending in a decent cross for Maguire, who fired over the bar.
That spell bred more confidence for Caulfield's men. Wexford lad O'Connor tested the 'keeper with a shot on 56 minutes and seconds later Maguire bore down on the Genk goal after a rapid breakaway, but he shot wide of Bizot's goal. The good spell by Cork seemed to wake Genk up from their slumber as they threatened with McNulty saving from Karelis, while Bailey's pace made him a constant threat.
In previous eras, the energy of the Irish side away from home against top-class European opposition would be sapped by now but City kept their shape and hunger.
In fact, they had their best chance of the night on 73 minutes when Stephen Dooley set up Gearóid Morrissey and his shot was very, very close.
Genk rallied again and pushed forward looking for the second goal they needed to make the away tie more comfortable but a Bailey effort was wide, while McNulty saved from Tanzania international Ally Samatta.
"We are going to Cork now, a full house of 7,000, and it's a massive game, we know we are under pressure and we know how good Genk are, we have to see if we are up to the job," Caulfield added.
GENK - Bizot; Walsh, Dewaest, Wouters, Uronen; Ndidi, Pozuelo (Heynen, 82); Buffel, Bailey; Samatta, Karelis (Kebano, 72).
CORK City - McNulty; McSweeney, Browne, Bennett, O'Connor; Bolger, G Morrissey; Buckley, Beattie (D Morrissey, 83), Dooley; Maguire (O'Sullivan, 86).
REF - C Pisani (Malta)