IF LAST YEAR’S President’s Cup final was anything to go by, we’re in for a feisty affair at Turner’s Cross this evening (7.45pm kick-off).
Cork City and Dundalk clocked up seven yellow cards and a red between them, with Lilywhites defender Brian Gartland receiving his marching orders before the Leesiders ran out 2-0 winners thanks to goals from Gavan Holohan and Sean Maguire.
It was a real statement of intent from John Caulfield’s side, who went on to earn victory over their title rivals on two occasions in the league. That wasn’t enough to stop the Louth club from claiming three-in-a-row, but Cork would finally get their hands on silverware after extra-time drama in the FAI Cup final.
“There is a great rivalry between ourselves and Cork,” said Gartland, ahead of the season’s curtain-raiser. “They don’t want to see us lifting the trophy down there even if it doesn’t mean much. We don’t want to be watching them lift something up and letting them think they have the upper hand.
“It’s great to open the season like that with bite, intensity and a hunger to win. Listen, at the end of the season if you look back and you’ve got the league, the President’s Cup doesn’t mean too much that way. But it can set a tone for the season to come and it gave us a kick up the arse last year.
“We went down there, and Cork had upped their gears from the season before. We needed to raise our levels. We couldn’t just go out and play every team off the park, we need to keep working.
“We don’t want to lose any game. But at the end of the season, there are bigger games to come.”
Over the past three years, a rivalry of real substance has developed between the two clubs and it can only be good for the league as a selling point.
“It’s healthy competition,” adds Gartland. “You need teams like driving you on or else you get complacent. Cork raised their standards again last year, (and had) a good season. We don’t concern ourselves with other teams, we just try and look after ourselves. A lot of other teams concern themselves with us.
I was reading Alan Bennett’s article (on The42) and he was saying when he played in the league before going over to England that they had great rivalries with Shels and Derry but that it was nothing compared to the rivalry they have with us.
“Every league needs something like that. You need something to draw in fans, you guys (the media) need something to write about and for sparks to fly. If you don’t have that, you don’t have entertainment.”
The President’s Cup may be played in his honour, but passionate League of Ireland fan Michael D Higgins won’t be in attendance tonight as he is on the last leg of his visit to South America and Cuba.
Goalkeeper Gary Rogers, Shane Grimes, Chris Shields, David McMillan and Jamie McGrath are all missing for the visitors, but captain Stephen O’Donnell and Michael Duffy — a recent arrival from Celtic — are available after returning to fitness.
City skipper John Dunleavy has been ruled out despite returning to training, while Caulfield could be left with a selection headache as fellow defenders Alan Bennett and Kenny Browne are also doubts.
“We are looking forward to the game,” says the Rebels boss. “It will be a great opportunity for our new players to line out in Turner’s Cross for the first time and a first opportunity for many of our supporters to see those new players in action.”
“To have a game of this quality the week before the start of the season is great. I am hoping that there will be a big crowd in Turner’s Cross. I am told tickets have been selling well and I am hoping they will get the noise levels up!
“I know that the club are doing a photo of the Shed End at the game which will be going up on the wall of the shop, so I am hoping that people will get in early and fill it up with plenty of colour.”
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