Caulfield knows he must adjust for life without Maguire
John Caulfield, Cork City's manager, is in no doubt about the move that won the Leesiders the Airtricity League Premier title after a 12-year wait. It was a meeting he had in late April with Preston manager Simon Grayson and club official Peter Ridsdale. Preston wanted Sean Maguire to start training with them at the start of July, Caulfield wanted them to leave Maguire at Cork until the end of the season.
"They were anxious because they knew there were other clubs interested, and that would put the price up, but in some ways that suited us. I sat Seanie down and said that it would be great for him to play in Europe, and he agreed. If he didn't want to play in Europe I was goosed. So Preston agreed that Seanie - and Kevin O'Connor - would join them on July 24.
"They trained with Preston in Fota Island, played in Bray on the Sunday, Seanie scored, we won 2-0 and they were in Preston the following day. He played four games in Europe and also three League games, which were crucial. At a time when he was supposed to be gone, we collected nine points."
On March 10, Cork City took over at the top of the Premier Division table, and they never looked like relinquishing their hold on the number one spot in the seven months since. Their 0-0 draw with Derry City finally secured the point they needed to get over the line, with two games to go.
It was a particularly sweet success for Caulfield, who was appointed on November 13, 2013 - too late to prevent star players Daryl Horgan and Shane Duggan departing to Dundalk and Limerick respectively - and found only six players signed.
Of the squad that Caulfield inherited from Stuart Ashton, only four - Mark McNulty, Gearóid Morrissey, Garry Buckley and John Dunleavy - were involved this year, and yet in his first season, Caulfield came so close.
"With seven games to go it seemed all over, but we won the next six and were a point ahead of Dundalk going into the last game, but that was in Dundalk and we lost 2-0. We were so close that I wondered was that it, had we blown our best chance. The next year the team on paper looked good but they weren't, and Dundalk were better. They had gone to another level. So I decided to have a clear-out and bring in a lot of young players.
"At the end of the day, Maguire was a great signing. Did I think that in two years he'd be an international player? No way. I've been given a lot of credit, but he had to do it himself, and that's what I admire about the guy. He took everything on board and did it. He deserves all the credit. Last year he was really good, but this year he was untouchable. It was great to see a player who wanted to make himself better. He was unmarkable.
"Without him, we might have to create a team that plays a bit differently. We probably won't get another fellow who will score 20 goals, but we will be a team that will compete at the top. We've got to get better and better."
Already there is talk that he is going to lose more players, with Dubliners Karl Shepherd and Stephen Beattie linked with moves nearer home. "For the past few weeks," Caulfield explained, "I have put contract talks on hold. Those players have been fantastic for us. We'd like them to stay, but can they get more money elsewhere? They can. However, I think the majority of players, with Champions League football to come, will stay."
Apart from the league trophy, the biggest highlight for Caulfield is that "every player will be paid for the full year. When I came in they were on 35-week contracts and I always felt that was a real downside to our league. This is really significant and I thank the board and the club for signing off on that."
In terms of budget, he reckons that Cork are fourth in the league, with Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers one and two. "That's where we're at, but with the facilities and the way they're looked after, the players are treated incredibly well and that's where our strength is."
In terms of Europe, Caulfield would like to get to the third round at least, but to achieve that, "we need a panel of 24 - and we won't have a panel of 24."
The club's travel expenses, he explains, "are horrendous. Every game in the league involves coach hire, with a minimum of five overnights. We spend over €100,000 on travel, enough to get three good players."
Sunday Indo Sport