Cian Coleman celebrates putting Cork City ahead last Friday. Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Cork City fans' anger is palpable - it will increase if the club doesn't match their ambition

A new manager must be put in place as soon as possible – and given control.

AS THE REFEREE blew his whistle at the end of last Friday’s SSE Airtricity Promotion/Relegation play-off, I was already moving towards the exit. I could hear a section of Cork City’s support chanting “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”.

I didn’t share that anger, it felt wrong after a game where a terrible bobble ten minutes from time denied Joe O’Brien-Whitmarsh a goal that would likely have reversed the outcome. A 17-year-old who had been a shining light this season facing abuse instead of adulation because the pitch cut up. But while many players were clearly devastated, had given it everything and just lacked quality – it felt other minds were already on their night out.

As I walked behind the new stand in Tallaght, the sound of City fans was replaced by sounds of a Waterford contingent who had secured promotion. In the end, both teams got what they deserved. 

On the way home, I tweeted sarcastically about the club’s ceding of supporter control; that we found ourselves in the exact situation transferring the club was supposed to prevent. I wouldn’t have ceded 100% control of the club to any individual but I’ve nothing against Cork City’s owner, Dermot Usher. As soon as he took control of the club, I wanted him to be the most successful owner in Cork City history because his success means Cork City’s success.

He’s made mistakes but everyone does and most of those mistakes aren’t worth discussing. You don’t win trophies or suffer relegation through Ill-advised YouTube updates about toilet refurbishments; targeting the fans podcast that gave him his most meaningful platform prior to his takeover was an own goal but didn’t cause a goal to be scored or conceded on the pitch. 

Usher Dermot Usher. Picture: Doug Minnane

All an owner has to do is run his club competently and make money available. All fans want from an owner is his money and his absence.

At the beginning of the season, Usher was everywhere, but the only time that became an issue was when he stated a weak squad would be able to compete with everyone bar Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and St Patrick’s Athletic. He predicted the top three, but five other teams also outperformed Cork City. He put early pressure on manager Colin Healy to deliver beyond the squad’s ability. City’s squad was never going to compete for Europe and soon enough, most supporters would welcome any finish that wasn’t ninth or tenth. 

There were a number of unfortunate setbacks; Darragh Crowley, Ethan Varian and Albin Winbo all suffered cruciate ligament injuries in the opening months of the season. A generous contract offer was made to Matt Healy who rejected it in favour of a move to Belgian football. Following a heavy defeat in Dalymount that had roots in an awful performance by match officials, Healy quit. 

The reins were passed in name to Richie Holland but in reality, it was Director of Football Liam Buckley who ran the show. Buckley had been appointed the same week as Healy quit though the club were at pains to point out that Healy’s departure and Buckley’s arrival were unrelated. It became the pivotal point in the season and where the biggest mistake was made. With Healy gone, who would manage the team?

While the Cork City staff are excellent, Usher appointed a seemingly honorary Chairman and Board who – with the exception of UCC’s Seán O’Conail – haven’t the first clue about League of Ireland. Former Cork City player Damien Delaney was the only recognisable name, but no-one seems to remember seeing him at a League of Ireland ground since he was paid to be at one. 

So where was Usher getting his advice? It could only have been Buckley. A new manager wasn’t hired and after a brief bounce in results, Buckley was given the manager’s job. To his credit, Usher supported him financially. In the face of a struggling squad hampered by departures and injury, Usher put his money where his mouth was. The problem was by whom, and how, that money was spent. 

As sporting director, player recruitment fell under Buckley’s job description. Facing into the transfer window just three points off Drogheda United and with Sligo Rovers also in range, Cork City staff felt confident of a strong second half of the season. But the new signings didn’t improve the squad and those few who showed promise arrived far too late. A combined lack of match sharpness and quality meant that the confidence was erased.

Buckley’s training was said to be erratic. Coaches would plan a session with the players in the dressing room before Buckley would meet them on the pitch, change the plans and work on something else. Coaches and players committed to the cause were not allowed to raise their voices to under-performing and uncommitted players simply because Buckley didn’t want harsh words used in his dressing room. By the time Buckley was removed the club was already destined for the playoff. The application on the pitch improved as the squad rallied under Richie Holland but Friday night’s playoff became a mirror of the season, losing three players to early injuries and ending up reliant on players who didn’t have the quality to overcome Waterford.

Friday night’s anger was intense, but it will only increase if the club doesn’t show clear signs that it targets the supporters’ expectation of an immediate promotion back to the Premier Division in 2024.

richie-holland Richie Holland. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

As some of our talented players depart, Usher must get a new manager in place as soon as possible and give him control. Buckley’s recruitment last summer was too slow and too haphazard to trust him to do a better job this winter. Usher has to ask himself if a First Division team with a good manager and strong academy staff actually need a Sporting Director.

Usher was offered a glimpse into how things could have been after Holland brought Dan Murray in to coach the senior team. Murray ran through a drill based on a pattern of play he saw St Pat’s use. He walked everyone through the drill and then ran it. Straight away, the drill broke down and Murray started berating the players and making clear what was expected of them, in a way that only a former captain, passionate about the club, can get away with.

In the stand at Bishopstown, Usher was watching and remarked to someone that he thought Murray was a bit over the top. 

“No Dermot, that’s how it should have been all along,” came the reply.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel