The mid-season sacking of Tommy Dunne, and the appointment of Stuart Ashton saw them lose only twice in the final 10 games, and the last seven home games unbeaten, including a thumping of champions St. Patrick’s Athletic
There is a great excitement on Leeside, with the appointment of John Caulfield as manager for 2014. The Ballineen man has Cork football in his blood. He is the clubs all time record appearance holder, as well as the top goal scorer of all time, and was recently inducted into the Cork City Hall of Fame. Caulfield has negotiated a few exciting signings, with Darren Murphy returning from England, and ex-CCFC player Liam Kearney resigning after a spell in Australia
Caulfield’s season starts as last season finished. St Pats visit Turner’s Cross on the 7th March. The following Monday he gets his first taste of a Munster derby, as Limerick come to town in the EA Sports Cup, followed by a trip to Derry, and league games against Bray Wanderers and new boys Athlone Town
Pre-season has gone well for Cork. Averaging 3 goals a game, they are unbeaten with victories over Avondale United, Waterford United, Mervue United and Longford Town, a 3-3 draw with Finn Harps sandwiched in between
Last season: 6th
Title odds: 14-1
In: Anthony Elding (Sligo Rovers), Michael Rafter (Derry City), Billy Dennehy ( Shamrock Rovers), Matt Gledhill (Sligo Rovers), Darren Murphy (free), Liam Kearney (free), Mark O’Sullivan (Avondale United),
Out: Kalen Spillane (Sligo Rovers), Shane Duggan (Limerick), Daryl Horgan (Dundalk), Danny Furlong (Wexford Youths), Alan Browne (Preston North End)
Caulfield has been clever with his transfer dealings.
The loss of Daryl Horgan to Dundalk was a blow to Cork fans, especially given the quality of some of the goals that he had scored. Shane Duggan moving to Limerick, and Kilduff’s return to Shamrock Rovers means that Cork only have two of their top five scorers from 2013 in their squad. Crucially, they have managed to hold on to young striker Danny Morrissey. The Midleton native had trials at five English clubs, including Championship Barnsley, but decided to pen a new contract to stay another year at Turner’s Cross. Morrissey flourished when partnered with Kilduff towards the end of last season, and ended up with nine goals.
Caulfield wasn’t able to tempt Kilduff away from Tallaght, but he has strengthened his attack by bringing in Sligo’s FAI Cup hero Anthony Elding, and Michael Rafter from Derry City, who each got 12 league goals last season. The return to the club of Liam Kearney, and Billy Dennehy gives them quality on either wing, and with a rock-solid defence led by club captain John Dunleavy, there is a buzz building on Leeside
For a lot of last season, Cork played long-ball football under Tommy Dunne, often frustrating the ‘Shed End’. Conceding late on was a real problem, with the side dropping a massive 14 points in the last five minutes of games. Over 20 points lost from winning positions made for grim reading.
There is new hope under Caulfield. People who have seen Avondale United under Caulfield’s leadership in recent seasons know the way he likes to play football. Fast and direct. His assistant manager at Avondale, John Cotter has joined him at Turner’s Cross. With the abundance of talent at his disposal, it is anyone’s guess on who the starting team will be each week. There is competition for every single place in the squad.
Dunleavy, Buckley, D.Dennehy, Danny Murphy,
Kearney, Healy, G.Morrissey, B.Dennehy,
Midfielder Gearóid Morrissey made more assists than any other Cork player last season, with 7, and is backed up in the centre by the experienced ex Ireland international Colin Healy and Darren Murphy. If Morrissey can provide that kind of service to the likes of Elding, Rafter or his namesake Danny, then Cork will score plenty.
Keep an eye on
As noted already, Michael Rafter fired in 12 league goals last season in 26 league appearances, and has already started whacking them in for Cork this year, grabbing goal after goal in pre-season. Given a chance as the lead striker, the 21-year-old could easily repeat that. Four of his goals this year have come from outside the 18 yard box. He will face stiff competition to start, but the Tipperary man can also play out on the right-wing. He has represented Ireland at five different levels
Where will they finish?
It is shaping up to be one of the most open League of Ireland seasons in recent memory with no less than five teams believing they have a chance at the title. Expectation in the Rebel County is at the highest it’s been in years. Caulfield has stated that his aim is to finish in the top four and get his club back to Europe, and with the depth and quality in his squad, don’t be surprised if he delivers.
But whisper it quietly, as many people are saying that the Rebel Army could be the dark horses in a title race.