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'Moral victories are no good' for Cork City in Champions League opener

The Leesiders will face a difficult task in Warsaw on Tuesday after last night’s defeat at Turner’s Cross.

John Caulfield dejected Cork City manager John Caulfield after last night's first-leg defeat to Legia Warsaw. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

CORK CITY MANAGER John Caulfield was left to rue several missed chances after seeing his side suffer a 1-0 defeat to Legia Warsaw last night at Turner’s Cross.

A spectacular 79th-minute strike from Polish international winger Michal Kucharczyk gave Legia the upper hand ahead of next Tuesday’s second leg in Warsaw.

Competing in the Champions League for the first time in 12 years, City produced a highly-commendable performance in the first qualifying round clash on Leeside.

Barry McNamee squandered a glorious early chance for the hosts, before Jimmy Keohane got into a promising position moments later. Conor McCarthy and substitute Graham Cummins brought saves out of Arkadisuz Malarz in the second half, but City will nevertheless have to come from behind against the Polish champions next week.

“Legia are a fantastic team. Massive club,” John Caulfield said. “Their manager says they can go to the Champions League group stages, so it shows you the level they’re at. Phenomenal players. But we knew down here that if we played well, if we defended right, we might get opportunities.

“The atmosphere, the crowd, it was a phenomenal night for the club. With 10 or 15 minutes gone in the match, we have a chance from 10 yards out and unfortunately for Barry he just scoffed it. He didn’t connect with it properly, and Jimmy a few minutes later.”

Caulfield added: “Graham came off the bench, he was straight through, didn’t connect with it properly. Conor had a chance at the back post from a corner-kick. If you get three or four chances like that at 0-0, you have to take them. Moral victories are no good.

Graham Cummins reacts to a missed chance Graham Cummins reacts to a missed chance. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We’re disappointed because obviously Legia are a quality team. They move the ball, you can see the intensity of their game, the way they play. They had a chance in the first half that they missed, and to score a winner from 30 yards was a great strike, but they found it difficult to play through us.

“It was just disappointing because the game went exactly the way we thought it would, but we didn’t take the chances that we had. We knew we wouldn’t have many but we probably had more than we thought we would have.”

Caulfield, who also highlighted the difference in budgets available to the Irish and Polish champions, played down his side’s chances of overturning the deficit away from home. The winners will advance to a meeting with Spartak Trnava (Slovakia) or HŠK Zrinjski Mostar (Bosnia & Herzegovina) in the second qualifying round.

“The Legia fellas came into our dressing room after the game, wanting to swap jerseys to be fair to them,” said the Cork City boss. “We said: ‘Lads, we can’t swap, we’ll try and arrange it for next week.’

“I’m not being smart, but that’s the level we’re at. They have a budget of 60, 65 million… we’re 60-times less than that. It just shows you where we’re at. But the heart and desire of the team — I said we don’t like moral victories, but it certainly would have been great had we gone ahead, just to see how they would have reacted. That’s what’s frustrating.

“Next week, the lads will go over and give everything, work as hard as they can and make sure they do the city and the club proud. That’s all you can ask for.”

Caulfield also refused to be critical of his players for the concession of the goal, which came when a quickly-taken free-kick teed up Kucharczyk to beat City goalkeeper Peter Cherrie in spectacular fashion from long range.

Sebastian Szymanski and Mateusz Wieteska celebrate Legia Warsaw's Sebastian Szymanski, Mateusz Wieteska and Inaki Astiz celebrate after the game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Sometimes when people are sitting back and watching the game, and they’re telling guys to press more and run, they have to understand the pace and the movement of the game,” Caulfield insisted. “Our lads worked so hard. Did we want to press more at times in the second half? We did. They just couldn’t.

“[Legia] can keep the ball, even when you put them under pressure. Did we expect the ball to go in? We could see he was going to play it across the box, [Karl] Sheppard sort of read it, but he was too far out. He connects from 30 yards and it goes into the top corner. What do you do?”

Caulfield explained that second-half injuries sustained by midfielder Gearoid Morrissey and right-back Conor McCarthy scuppered his plans to increase City’s offensive threat in the closing stages.

“It was unfortunate that what didn’t go to plan was the fact that Gearoid and Conor had to come off because our plan was that we’d bring on three attacking players in the last 25 minutes to give us that impetus to try and see could we put the pressure on,” he said.

“Beats [Steven Beattie], we certainly thought we could put him in an advanced position because he’s done well for us there, but he had to go in at right-back. That was the disappointing thing from that point of view.”

With first-choice goalkeeper Mark McNulty already sidelined due to an ankle injury, Caulfield added that Morrissey and McCarthy are now likely to miss the game in Poland: “With muscle injuries, will the recover in seven days? Probably not.”

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Paul Dollery

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