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Dublin: 1 °C Sunday 18 March, 2018

'I want to be the best player in the league... I've seen stuff written about me and it only helps'

Kieran Sadlier has been tipped as one of the stars of the 2018 season, and he’s made a positive start.

Updated at 21.30

Kieran Salier tackled by Ryan Brennan Cork City's Kieran Sadlier rides a challenge from Ryan Brennan of St Patrick's Athletic. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

ALTHOUGH HE ADMITS to being inspired by the example set by one of his closest friends in football, Kieran Sadlier insists his only objective for 2018 is to continue improving.

The skilful 23-year-old was Cork City’s hero against St Patrick’s Athletic on Friday night, when he scored directly from a corner in the 82nd minute to ensure that the Leesiders began their defence of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title with a win.

Having been tipped to be one of the stars of the 2018 season, Sadlier has made an impressive start. Five days prior to the 3-2 victory at Richmond Park, the English-born winger scored a stunning goal as City came from two goals down at half-time to claim the President’s Cup courtesy of a 4-2 defeat of Dundalk.

Sadlier is one of the domestic game’s most technically accomplished footballers — “he’s probably the most talented player in the league because his skill levels are incredible,” said his manager John Caulfield last week – yet there were signs in Inchicore on Friday which suggested that he has added the physicality and aggression many observers felt he previously lacked.

After joining Cork City from Sligo Rovers last July, Sadlier went on to win a Premier Division medal before helping the club to complete the first double in its history by scoring the decisive penalty in the shootout victory over Dundalk in the FAI Cup final. Following a brief break during the off-season, he was back in the gym to prepare for 2018.

“Last year I realised when I came here, it’s a big club obviously, and people are going to target you and they’re going to double up on you. Over the break I was in the gym doing my weights and that side of things. I only took three weeks off,” Sadlier told The42.

“I was back working and doing my extra bits for the rest of it, trying to improve in certain areas. Physicality is definitely one of them. I feel stronger now. I’ve put on weight and hopefully that’s something that’ll help me going forward. I’m always looking to improve my game.”

Kieran Sadlier celebrates with Sean Maguire after the game Kieran Sadlier with Sean Maguire after last November's FAI Cup final. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Preston North End striker Sean Maguire was the top performer in the League of Ireland in 2017, and Sadlier is keen on having a similar impact as the one made by his friend and former colleague. After his goals played a major role in Cork City ending a 12-year wait for a top flight title, Maguire was signed by the English Championship club last summer.

Sadlier and Maguire have already followed similar paths in their careers so far. As well as being Ireland underage team-mates — Sadlier’s grandfather hails from Tipperary — the pair were on the books together at West Ham United. They both ended up in Cork after stints at several other clubs, including Sligo Rovers.

“I’d love to emulate what Seani has done,” said Sadlier, who has also had spells with St Mirren, Peterborough United and Halifax Town. “He’s a different type of player obviously — he scores more goals as a striker — but my only aim really is to make the most of my ability and be the best player I can be. I want to be the best player in the league.

“I’ve seen stuff written up about me and it only helps. It pushes you on and gives you extra confidence. You’ll get the bad stuff too but you’ve just got to manage it mentally. Everything is going well at the moment. I’ve just got to keep improving and not rest on my laurels.”

Sadlier felt City were rewarded for their hard work in Friday’s win against St Pat’s. After taking an early 2-0 lead through goals from Barry McNamee and Graham Cummins, the complexion of the game changed in the 26th minute when Cummins received a straight red card for an apparent elbow on Kevin Toner.

Pat’s capitalised on their numerical advantage and pulled a goal back when City defender Aaron Barry inadvertently put the ball in his own net. Conan Byrne deservedly brought the Saints level shortly after the restart, but in spite of their dominance of possession, the home side were unable to take the lead.

With eight minutes of normal time remaining, Sadlier’s corner-kick crept over Barry Murphy’s line after the Pat’s goalkeeper seemed to slip on a surface which felt the effects of the heavy rain that had fallen throughout the first half.

Liam Buckley St Patrick's Athletic manager Liam Buckley. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Sadlier said: “I’m happy with the goal but this game was more about the fact that we showed as a team that we stick together when things aren’t going right. We had a brilliant start, we were so clinical, but with 10 men it’s hard, especially when you’re away from home. But we showed that when you work together and never give up that you’ll get your rewards.

“We’re a very close team. It’s one of the closest teams I’ve ever been in. Lads live together, we all go out together, and I think those things off the pitch come together on it. We showed it last week as well when we were 2-0 down up at Dundalk. Getting late winners after you’ve come back like that is an even better way to win sometimes.”

Meanwhile, Pat’s manager Liam Buckley says they can be encouraged by their display against the defending champions, despite finishing empty-handed in a game they mostly had the better of. Buckley’s side travel to Bray Wanderers on Friday, while Cork City welcome newly-promoted Waterford to Turner’s Cross.

“We were terribly unlucky, conceding a goal direct from a corner,” Buckley said. “I think they had two or three corners in the second half and that was it. They had no shots, our goalkeeper had nothing to do and we had all the possession. We just weren’t good enough in the final third. We needed to create a better quality of chances.

“We worked hard, we kept the ball well, we were quite disciplined, but it was just unfortunate that our goalkeeper slipped for their corner and it went directly in. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred that doesn’t go in and the game finishes two-all.

“It’s disappointing that we got nothing out of it but it’s only the first game. There’s a long way to go and there’s plenty of positives we can take out of it as well.”

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