Thursday 22 February 2018

Cork City boss John Caulfield banking on underdogs' bite

Cork City manager John Caulfield Picture: Sportsfile
Cork City manager John Caulfield Picture: Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice in Genk

As a player, John Caulfield tasted and savoured big European nights against big club sides like Bayern Munich, Galatasaray and Slavia Prague.

The name of the opponents for his Cork City side this evening in the Europa League, Racing Club Genk, to give them their full title, may not resonate with the same fervour.

Genk were only founded in 1988, their honours list amounts to no more than seven major trophies and they come from a sleepy town here in the north of the county, a city whose population is only just larger than that of Waterford.

And yet this club have managed to become a major force, in European football (a place in the group stages of the Champions League and Europa League three times in recent seasons) and, crucially, on the transfer market.

Players like Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Benteke, Thibaut Courtois and Yannick Carrasco (combined fees for recent transfers: €150 million) all began their careers with Genk and the sales go on (earlier this month they flogged Christian Kabasele, to Watford, for around €10m).

So overcoming Genk is anything but an easy task for Caulfield and his Cork side. Genk is not quite a cauldron of hate, as Caulfield would have experienced as a player in Istanbul, but Genk's home record in European competition (one defeat in the last 17 home games in Europe) is simply stunning.

Overcoming Genk is anything but an easy task for Caulfield (pictured) and his Cork side. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Overcoming Genk is anything but an easy task for Caulfield (pictured) and his Cork side. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Given all that's against them, would Caulfield accept a result along the lines of that achieved by Dundalk in the Champions League on Tuesday, a 1-0 first leg away defeat?

"I don't want to speculate about what the score will be but we are going out with a game plan to try and keep it tight and see can we hit them on the counter," Caulfield said before training at Genk's impressive stadium last night.

"When you look at the bigger picture, you think you would [take a 1-0 loss] based on the size of the club that they are.

"But we went to Hacken, it was 1-1 and we felt disappointed coming off the pitch as we felt we could have won 1-0.

"So you never know, the underdog always has a chance, you need a lot of things to go right for you, you need to play exceptionally well and for your concentration to be very good, and you need them not to play as well as they can, at least their top players. So I possibly would take that, but I am always positive."

Caulfield senses a different mind-set in his current crop of players, compared to his own playing days in Europe against the likes of Bayern.

"When I played, I played with a lot of brilliant players and great guys but, being realistic, I don't think we ever believed we could have progressed in those days when we drew the big teams," he admits.

"It was the start of our season and qualifying for Europe was like a bonus. It was a different mindset, you went over to give it your best but you stayed on the night after the match, it was like a carnival atmosphere.


"Now, we are a club with full-time players who live this, playing football and doing their best and preparing properly, and it is their job. So it's a different preparation and while we had incredible results against the Munichs and Galatasarays in my day, sometimes you went out with that attitude of 'backs to the wall and give it your best shot' whereas here, in the last two rounds, we were serious about trying to win a game in Europe."

Yet the Cork boss is in no doubt about Genk's pedigree. "All their players are current or former internationals so that shows you the level we're at," he says.

Senior internationals like Nikos Karelis (Greece), Jere Uronen (Finland), Neeskens Kebano (DR Congo), Mbwana Samatta (Tanzania) and Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria) are name-checked by the Cork boss, joking that he's only frightening himself by listing the names.

"They are at a different level, they are used to being in the Europa League and Champions League. But our guys are honest, there's great camaraderie and spirit in the side and if they give everything on the park, that's all you can ask for," he adds.

CORK CITY (probable) - McNulty;,McSweeney, Browne, Bennett, O'Connor; Bolger, G Morrissey; Beattie, Buckley, Dooley; Maguire.

Genk v Cork City, Live, Eir Sport, 7.0pm

Irish Independent

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