Sunday 15 September 2019

Cork's loyal fans and their underappreciated manager finally get the trophy they deserve

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John Caulfield. Photo: Sportsfile
John Caulfield. Photo: Sportsfile
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

The hurricane-battered stand at Turner's Cross provided the perfect backdrop for Cork City to finally clinch the League of Ireland title on Tuesday night. For one thing it represented the somewhat beleaguered look of John Caulfield's side over the last few weeks as, having built up an apparently unassailable lead, they made extremely heavy weather of taking the final steps to glory.

At times City seemed like a darts player who kept missing double after double to end a game yet kept getting additional opportunities because his opponent was so far behind. That they won the title with a 0-0 draw seemed entirely appropriate in the light of recent travails.

I even asked someone last week if they thought Cork's stuttering run-in would to some extent knock the good out of their title victory. "Not if you support them," said your man, which struck me as an extremely wise answer. Because that buckled stand also represents a pretty good metaphor for the resilience which City's fans have had to show over the past decade or so.

It is, after all, just seven years since the club was wound up and looked about to follow Cork Hibs, Cork Celtic and Cork Alberts into extinction. That this did not happen was due to the efforts of supporters who entered a team called Cork City Foras Co-Op into that year's first division and subsequently regained the rights to the club name. There can be a tendency to be dismissive about supporters' organisations yet this one saved a club.

Those fans also went on to make Turner's Cross the most exciting venue in the league, turning up in numbers which were the envy of every other club, giving the place an atmosphere not replicated anywhere else in domestic soccer. If ever League of Ireland fans deserved a title, it is the faithful at the Cross. It remains a supporter-owned club and long may this be the case.

This being so, quibbling about the manner in which City actually clinched the title seems a prime example of missing the point.

Suggesting that in some way Cork got a soft title also ignores what happened in recent League of Ireland seasons. Three years in a row Dundalk played football of a standard previously unseen in the league, their European exploits proving just how excellent they were.

Yet in all of those seasons City chased the champions all the way, making the title come down to the very last game of 2014 and remaining the Lilywhites' only serious rivals after that. Those City teams would have won the title in quite a few of previous League of Ireland seasons.

So when Dundalk faltered this season City were the perfect heirs. The sheer power of their play in the first half should not be forgotten. In a way they ended up as a victims of their own success, it was obvious from a long way out that the title would be theirs which meant that the intensity of their spectacular start would hardly be replicated.

A drop-off was likely and the loss of Sean Maguire made it inevitable. Dundalk's all-time record of 78 goals in a season, set in 2015, ended up eluding Cork by a large margin.

Yet there's nothing too shabby about City's record, with two games left they have amassed 73 points and may yet surpass Dundalk's title winning total of 77 from last season and 74 from 2014.

They are worthy champions and it is impossible not to feel delighted for Caulfield (pictured) who, having come second to Stephen Kenny three years in a row, finally has his time in the limelight.

I sometimes think that Caulfield is a bit underappreciated in Cork and that, like Conor Counihan or Ian Baraclough, his contribution may only be appreciated when he's gone. So here's a bit of advice for City fans: If there's a club meeting and some guy starts suggesting that if Cork want to move on to the next level they should consider replacing the manager who's just brought them their first title in 12 years, get hold of that guy, take him out to Spike Island and leave him there.

Trust me, I know where this kind of talk leads.

This time five years ago Sligo Rovers were the ones celebrating a league title. This season success for the Bit O'Red will be the avoidance of relegation.

Make the most of those glory days because this is a merciless league. Mistakes put you back at square one pretty quick.

The Last Word: Cadle's comforting presence a huge loss

I was extremely sad to hear about the death of Kevin Cadle who passed away at the age of 62 on Monday. Cadle was a basketball coach of some renown, winning five British titles, but he'll have been best known to many people as one of the faces of Sky's NFL coverage.

The big man from Buffalo radiated integrity and decency. He was far from flash but was always a compelling and comforting presence on the screen. Here was a man who really wanted you to understand what was going on and who wanted you to love the game as much as he did.

Cadle was proof that few things are as interesting as someone talking passionately about something they know and love. What a marvellous broadcaster he was.

The comedian Sean Hughes, who also died last week at the age of 51, was no athlete but he did come up with one of the great Irish sport-related jokes: "I saw my brother fight at the National Stadium. It was at a Depeche Mode concert."

God rest them both.

* * * * *

Jonathan Rea's third Superbikes world title in a row may well be the most under-reported Irish sporting achievement of the year. The Larne rider became the first man in history to complete the hat-trick, securing the title with weeks to spare.

Rea, riding for Kawasaki, won 12 of his 22 races, clinching the title three weeks ago with a win at Magny-Cours in France.

The lack of fanfare accorded Rea's achievement may have something to do with the fact that he is usually described as a British rider. Yet he's as Irish as George Best or Alex Higgins, which is to say Northern Irish.

We're quick enough to claim them when it suits us. It would be intriguing to see how Rea would go in Moto GP, motorcycling's equivalent of Formula 1, but though he's received offers, for now he seems content to stick with the Superbikes.

* * * * *

The return of National Hunt racing to Punchestown last week seemed to herald a change of the sporting season. There was the sense of the road to Cheltenham being embarked upon once more and no one set out quite as impressively as Gordon Elliott's Death Duty. The six-year-old went to Cheltenham last year as hot favourite for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle but looked well beaten by the time he unseated Bryan Cooper.

Now re-purposed as a chaser, he was highly impressive when winning Wednesday's Grade Three Buck House Novices Chase by 11 lengths and looks a leading contender for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham. It was one of six victories on the day for Elliott whose joust at the top of the National Hunt tree with Willie Mullins should be just as entertaining this season.

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