Sport League of Ireland

Saturday 16 December 2017

Grounded Cork ready for acid test - Dunleavy

Cork City's captain Johnny Dunleavy. Photo: Eóin Noonan / Sportsfile
Cork City's captain Johnny Dunleavy. Photo: Eóin Noonan / Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

When the League of Ireland changed to a summer season, few could have envisaged a scenario where the destination of the title could effectively be decided in the first week of June.

The challenge for Dundalk heading into tonight's meeting of the top two at Oriel Park is to deliver a result that produces a title race.

That's because the table reads like Cork are in a league of their own at the moment. John Caulfield's side travel to Oriel Park with a 15-point lead over Stephen Kenny's charges.

If they survive tonight unscathed, they will enter the short mid-season break with a cushion that is likely to remove suspense at the top from the business end of the campaign.

On paper, a trip away to the home of their closest pursuers is the most difficult task that the Leesiders will face this term.

Avoiding defeat would kick off a discussion on whether the Leesiders can go through an entire campaign unbeaten.

Considering they're now at the halfway point, it's no longer fanciful to speak in those terms.

Their captain Johnny Dunleavy says their boss will keep the group grounded.

But they appreciated the significance of coming from behind to take full points from last week's games with Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers.

"We've probably showed a lot of character there, a lot of quality too," Dunleavy says.

"It's all mentality and momentum. As clichéd as it is, it's game to game. We've been performing very well week to week and if we can keep that level up, we'll have no fear going to Dundalk.

"It was particularly important to come back from a draw in Galway (the only game where City have dropped points) to take nine points from the next three games. It showed that we're back on it."

Dunleavy has taken special enjoyment from it after a stint at Cork that has been peppered by lengthy injury absences.

"I have to say I'm loving it," says the 25-year-old, who has popped up with goals against Bray and Shamrock Rovers.

"Last year was especially difficult. I put in a lot of work to get back and there was a lot of tough days in the gym on my own.

"Sometimes it can be hard to keep yourself up but I put in the work and now I'm reaping the rewards."

Missing out on last November's sweet cup final win over Dundalk was part of the punishment, but he could still feel the weight lifting off the shoulders of everyone around the club. Since then, there's been no looking back.

Dundalk v Cork City,

Live, RTE2, 7.30

Irish Independent

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