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Dublin: 11°C Thursday 6 May 2021

Cork City hopeful of completing deals for Preston defender and Gillingham striker

The Leesiders and Dundalk will launch the new season by contesting the President’s Cup on Saturday.

Cork City manager John Caulfield.
Cork City manager John Caulfield.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

CORK CITY MANAGER John Caulfield has called on supporters to get behind the club’s young recruits ahead of this weekend’s President’s Cup clash with Dundalk.

For the fourth year in a row, City will bid to claim the first silverware of the season at the expense of the Lilywhites when the teams meet at Turner’s Cross on Saturday (5.30pm).

Several new faces will feature for the hosts after a winter which saw some significant personnel changes down south. Meanwhile, negotiations are continuing regarding the potential signings of Preston North End’s Kevin O’Connor and Liam Nash of Gillingham.

Nine players have left the club since the end of last season, including regulars such as Kieran Sadlier (Doncaster Rovers), Barry McNamee (Derry City), Jimmy Keohane (Rochdale) and Steven Beattie (Chattanooga Red Wolves).

After a disappointing 2018, during which City failed to defend the Premier Division and FAI Cup crowns they claimed the previous year, Caulfield has had to contend with a reduced budget as he begins his sixth season at the helm of the supporter-owned club.

His seven new signings have an average age of 22, while youngsters Ronan Hurley and Cian Bargary have been handed professional contracts after being promoted from the U19s.

Preston North End v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship - Deepdale Preston North End's Kevin O'Connor tracks Sammy Ameobi of Bolton Wanderers. Source: Martin Rickett

“We’ve lost nine players from last season’s squad. Some are guys who wanted to go and we wanted them to go, but there were a number of lads who we would have preferred not to go,” Caulfield said this afternoon at the club’s Bishopstown training ground.

“That’s just the way it is. You don’t have to be a genius to see that a lot of the guys we’ve brought in are young lads — very good lads — who probably need to get experience. It’s a different challenge this year.”

Following their double success of 2017, City came up short on both fronts last year. Dundalk regained the league title with three games to spare. The Oriel Park outfit then clinched the FAI Cup thanks to Patrick McEleney’s winning header.

In the meantime, Cork City have also parted company with Peter Cherrie (Derry City), Johnny Dunleavy (Sligo Rovers), Damien Delaney (Waterford), Danny Kane and Josh O’Hanlon (both unattached).

Tadhg Ryan (21) has arrived from Galway United to compete with veteran goalkeeper Mark McNulty. Dan Casey (Bohemians, 21), Gary Boylan (Sligo Rovers, 22) and Garry Comerford (Waterford, 25) will bolster the defence, with the latter duo also providing options in midfield.

At the other end of the pitch, Daire O’Connor (UCD, 21), James Tilley (on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion, 20) and Darragh Rainsford (Pike Rovers, 24) will hope to play a part in compensating for the loss of Sadlier, last season’s leading goalscorer.

Ireland: Cork City v Dundalk - Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup Final Kieran Sadlier celebrates after scoring for Cork City in the 2018 FAI Cup final defeat to Dundalk. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

After being forced to cope with costly departures for four consecutive seasons, Dundalk have finally managed to avoid any major losses — at least on the playing front — during this off-season. The double champions have also brought in goalkeeper Aaron McCarey (Warrenpoint Town), midfielder Jordan Flores (Wigan Athletic) and winger Dan Kelly (Bohemians).

“The change is massive but I suppose that’s part of League of Ireland football,” said Caulfield. “That’s just the way it is unfortunately. I would obviously prefer if there wasn’t such a high turnover — you work so hard to build a team — but it’s just part of the process.

“It is a challenge and there are a lot of new players in this year again. Ultimately, would you like to be in a position where you’re business-owned like Dundalk and you can keep all your players and pay wages that are much, much higher than other clubs? Maybe you would. But that’s not us.

“We are what we are and we all know what we are. I’ve been with the club all my life so I don’t make complaints. We work within our means and that’s what we have to do.

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“We’ll have to earn everything this year and we’ll have to gel very quickly. We believe that the younger players we’ve brought in will be very good, but at the same time we need to support them.

“At home we need to give them encouragement. If you criticise young players they can go into their shell. We need to be behind them. That’s the big message I’d send out to our supporters.

Luton Town v Brighton and Hove Albion U21 - Checkatrade Trophy - Kenilworth Road James Tilley has joined Cork City on loan from English Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion. Source: Jonathan Brady

“It’s a different year and a different team. We’ve had familiarity for the last number of years, we haven’t this year, and we need to get right behind the team and make sure that in our home games it’s an intimidating place for opposition teams to come.”

City could still add to their squad in the coming days. Nash, a 23-year-old striker, is a target after he impressed in a couple of pre-season games for Caulfield’s side. Left-back O’Connor, who moved from Cork to Preston in 2017, has also been training with his former club after struggling to make an impact in England. 

“We thought things might have happened but they haven’t,” Caulfield said in relation to the pair. “At the moment it’s really tricky. There’s a board meeting tonight and we’ll have a chat, but it’s not straightforward.

“Could they be in within the next week to 10 days? Possibly. Is there a chance that neither will be in? Absolutely. I’ll have to wait and see.”

For Dundalk, Saturday’s game will mark their first competitive outing since Stephen Kenny left his role as manager to take over as Republic of Ireland U21 boss. Assisted by John Gill, Vinny Perth has taken the reins, but Caulfield expects a smooth transition.

“John Gill has been around the league for a long time,” he said. “Vinny Perth has been the assistant so he knows the running of the club. I think if they had a number of personnel changes with players you might say something, but the fact that they’ve kept all their players and enhanced it with new signings, particularly Daniel Kelly, it augurs well for them.

Vinny Perth Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“They are the club that have been at the top with ourselves for the last number of years. Obviously they won a number of trophies, they have kept all their players, they have invested with Daniel Kelly, Flores from Wigan, and they could possibly bring in someone else before the weekend.

“They have kept their team, they’re investing very heavily and that’s their plan. Financially they’re just in a different place than we are. That’s fine, we know where we’re at. There’s probably a bigger challenge for us because we will have a lot of new players on Saturday. It will be an indicator to see what we’re like.”

Caulfield added: “Everyone knows that financially we’ve changed things dramatically. I think people can see that with the quality of the players [who left]. A lot of those guys were experienced, they had been around for a long time so they were high earners.

“That’s just the way it is and that’s just the decision the club has gone with. I have no problem with that. At the end of the day, if the new board want to go down that road, that’s fine. I’m here to get the best out of the players we have.

“I’m asking the supporters this year to come out and back the new players. They’re young, get behind them, give them support. If you do that, anything is possible. Is it going to be a huge challenge? Of course it is. Is there more pressure than any other year? No, there’s not. There’s pressure every year. Everyone expects.”

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