Sunday 22 July 2018

'The biggest game in the club's history since Bayern Munich' - Caulfield highlights task ahead for Cork City

Cork City manager John Caulfield celebrates. Photo: Sportsfile
Cork City manager John Caulfield celebrates. Photo: Sportsfile
Cork City manager John Caulfield. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Aidan Fitzmaurice

Aidan Fitzmaurice

It's been a long wait of 12 years for Cork City supporters to hear the Champions League theme tune ring out across Turner's Cross.

For manager John Caulfield, tonight's home tie with Legia Warsaw in the Champions League first qualifying round has echoes of another generation, as the size of the task ahead of Cork in trying to outwit the Polish champions is akin to a previous battle with Bayern Munich, back in 1991 when Dave Barry squared up to Steffan Effenberg and Cork earned a 1-1 draw at home.

"I'll be a bit more grey after tonight," jokes Caulfield.

But there's no joking about the mammoth task ahead of his side as Legia come to Ireland with a talent-laden squad.

Even though their two current Polish internationals have not travelled to Ireland and have been given more time off following their exertions at the World Cup finals, Legia still have nine senior internationals in their 19-man squad, not including young prospects like Sandro Kulenovic, a highly-rated Croatian teenage striker and Sebastian Szymanski, another teen who almost made it to Russia with the Polish senior side.

Legia have got past the first hurdle in Europe in their last nine European campaigns and were able to earn a draw with Real Madrid in the Champions League group stage only two seasons ago, so this a club very serious about swatting aside the likes of Cork and getting into the group stage.

"Other than Bayern Munich in the club's history this is the biggest team, financially, that this club has played," says Caulfield.

"We have played a lot of good teams, Genk and Malmo, but Legia are at a higher level than the other teams, bar Bayern Munich.

"If we were playing Celtic tonight, no one would give us a chance, everyone knows everything about them, but Legia Warsaw beat Celtic 6-1 three years ago. That shows the quality they have.

"It's going to be a tough day. They can leave two Polish internationals at home; if they were playing Celtic they probably wouldn't. We understand that, but this is why you try to get into the top two or three, to get into Europe to give you this opportunity.

"We know we're up against it. You'd like to be away first, there's a bit more pressure on you at home, in the sense that you'd have absolutely no chance if you lose tonight.

"You look at all the positives you can get, but when you weigh up all the odds, they're probably 100/1 on and we're probably 100/1 to win it.

"But at the same time in football you know that things happen, they may underestimate you and may not play as well as they can, they may take you for granted and that's what you're always hoping will give you a slight chance."

Tonight's game is a 6,000 sell-out and Caulfield hopes that the narrow confines of Turner's Cross could frustrate a Legia squad more accustomed to the wide open spaces of their own 32,000-capacity home.

The Cork boss has a couple of calls to make before kick-off, though. Long-serving 'keeper Mark McNulty is a doubt with an ankle injury, while Garry Buckley's stitches to a recent head wound will also need a check-up.

Damien Delaney is available for what would be a competitive debut in his second spell with City but a lack of game-time could see him on the bench.

Legia's Croatian coach Dean Klafuric can call on current internationals like Adam Hlousek (Czech Republic), Dominik Nagy (Hungary) and Marko Vesovic (Montenegro).

Irish Independent

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