John Caulfield sticks to trusty Cup routine
The FAI Cup was in Leeside yesterday but, for the players of Cork City, grabbing a hold of it was strictly forbidden.
It is safe to say that their manager John Caulfield is a superstitious man. Before each City game, early arrivals to the ground will notice that he goes on a solo walk to all four corners of the pitch. During a match, he makes sure that he has a bottle of water placed in exactly the same spot in the technical area. His dugout attire changed from tracksuit to a smart suit when his daughter suggested that it would make him calmer.
"Sure we're all half mad, aren't we?" he laughs, when the ban on touching the cup during the media day for Sunday's Aviva Stadium showdown with Dundalk was mentioned. "It's funny, but there are certain things you do and certain things you don't do."
His squad respected his wishes. As he prepares for the eagerly anticipated meeting with Stephen Kenny's double-chasing side, the former City striker is drawing on his own cup experiences.
In 1992, he travelled to Dublin as a key member of a group that was expected to swat Bohemians aside and went home, he recalls, "with our tail between our legs". Six years later, they were cast in the role of underdogs against Shelbourne. "We were given no chance," he said. "And we won the cup. I had it in my house for a week in '98 and that was great. That was after we won it."
Before that happens, there will be no larking about. If Caulfield is intent on mirroring the 1998 approach then he will be happy that Cork are again coming into the decider as a team which is attempting to upset the odds. There is a sense, however, that the City camp feel that the gap in quality between the protagonists has been exaggerated in certain quarters.
After all, Cork were 45 minutes away from winning the league in last year's title decider at Oriel Park. And, while they finished 11 points behind the Louth club this year as they retained the crown, they managed to improve their head-to-head record against the champions.
Caulfield is still waiting for a first win over Kenny but, after three losses from three in his first season in charge, a solitary defeat and two draws has helped to build confidence levels.
"We feel we're closer," says Caulfield. "But we'll know we'll have to play very well as they are the favourites.
"The good thing about it is that a lot of people are not giving us much of a chance, so maybe it's easier to keep the players' feet on the ground and be more focused. From my point of view it's about managing the situation.
"Most people will expect them to win but it's all about how you perform on the day and if we perform then I believe we'll win. If four or five fellas don't perform then we've no chance and that's just the way it is."
Caulfield has a reasonably clean bill of health as the countdown gathers pace. The talented John Kavanagh, who required surgery on a complicated hamstring problem, is the only confirmed absentee.
Ex-internationals Liam Miller and Colin Healy had question marks hanging over them with the former leaving the pitch early during Friday's success over Bohemians that wrapped up second spot. The prognosis is good.
"Liam has had an issue with his calf on and off and if it was Friday it might be tricky but by Sunday I would expect him to be okay," said Caulfield.
Healy came on against Bohs after a worrying period where it seemed that a heel problem would rule him out.
"If I'm being honest, three weeks ago it looked like he was gone," he continued. "Colin got a kick about two months ago and it flared up. He got medical advice to rest for two or three weeks and he was on tablets but it just wasn't improving. We then went to a different specialist, got different treatment and it started clearing up."
Their experience could aid Cork's cause in a fixture that should attract in excess of 25,000 spectators to Dublin 4.