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Draw with Derry sees Cork City clinch first Premier Division title in 12 years

With two games to spare, the Leesiders are back on top in the League of Ireland.
Oct 17th 2017, 9:16 PM 22,308 82

Ryan Delaney and Alan Bennett celebrate winning the league with supporters Source: Morgan Treacy; ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Cork City 0
Derry City 0

Paul Dollery reports from Turner’s Cross

THIRD TIME’S A charm for Cork City.

The 2017 season hadn’t yet reached its midway point by the time they put one hand on the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division trophy, but John Caulfield’s side were finally crowned champions tonight with two games to spare.

It’s the club’s third top-flight title in their 33-year history, and they needed three attempts to seal the deal. A late goal from Robbie Benson of defending champions Dundalk denied them here at Turner’s Cross three weeks ago. City were then unable to find the breakthrough they needed in Friday’s goalless draw away to Bohemians.

They took a six-point lead over Dundalk into tonight’s game against Derry City, so only a draw was required to finally bring this foregone conclusion of a title race to an end. And that’s exactly what they got, with neither team able to hit the net over the course of an unremarkable 90 minutes.

The Leesiders blitzed all before them for the first two-thirds of this campaign, but they’ve limped towards the finish line in unconvincing fashion since leading goalscorer Sean Maguire left for Preston North End in July. Prior to tonight, they took just two points from their previous four league games.

Those recent struggles have left Cork fans frustrated, but they’ll be forgotten about tonight as they bask in the glory of being able to refer to their team as champions of Ireland for the first time since 2005.

Steven Beattie with Ronan Curtis tussle on the sideline Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Derry were also the opponents here on that November night 12 years ago, although this climax wasn’t quite as dramatic as its predecessor. On that occasion, a 2-0 win saw Cork overtake Derry — who held a one-point lead — on the final day of the season.

The contrasting manner of this conclusion is likely to matter little to the 2017 champions, for whom persistence has finally paid off. After three consecutive seasons of playing second fiddle to Dundalk, their roles have now been reversed.

The form they’ve produced lately won’t be good enough to keep them at the summit, but the legacy of this season for John Caulfield’s team will be the 22-game undefeated run they embarked on from the outset, when they dropped just two points from a possible 66.

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Tonight’s game eventually went ahead at the third time of asking. It was initially rescheduled from last Saturday week to last night due to the involvement of Ryan Delaney and Ronan Curtis with the Republic of Ireland U21s. Storm Ophelia then forced another postponement for a further 24 hours.

The game was threatened again yesterday when the heavy winds wrenched the roof from a substantial section of the Derrynane Stand at Turner’s Cross. But Corkonians weren’t prepared to wait much longer for their coronation and the damage was cleared in time for tonight’s 7.20pm kick-off.

With the stand subsequently closed, a reduced but sold-out attendance witnessed the game, the majority of which delivered little in terms of entertainment for RTÉ 2 viewers and the 5,857 spectators inside the ground.

Karl Sheppard with Aaron Barry Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Derry came closest to breaking the deadlock in the opening 45 minutes, with a Rory Patterson chip forcing Mark McNulty to tip the ball over. Aaron McEneff presented Harry Monaghan with a good chance moments later but he headed off target after finding himself on the end of the former Tottenham trainee’s corner.

As the interval approached, Gerard Doherty had to make a couple of saves from Cork City midfielder Garry Buckley but both stops were comfortable for the veteran Derry goalkeeper.

The visitors offered little going forward in the second half, and while Cork enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession they struggled to create anything that might alter the scoreline. Nevertheless, that was ultimately enough to get them over the line.

To get there, they defied the loss of their club captain, Johnny Dunleavy, to injury in June, before Irish international striker Sean Maguire and left-back Kevin O’Connor departed for England a month later. Despite those setbacks, Cork City have managed to leapfrog a Dundalk side regarded as arguably the greatest the League of Ireland has produced.

Tonight’s performance may not have been worthy of champions, but after making a start to the season which hasn’t been bettered in almost a century, they’ve more than earned the right to savour that success.

Cork City: Mark McNulty; Steven Beattie (Conor McCarthy, 70), Alan Bennett, Ryan Delaney, Shane Griffin; Conor McCormack, Gearoid Morrissey; Jimmy Keohane, Garry Buckley, Stephen Dooley (Kieran Sadlier, 61); Karl Sheppard (Achille Campion, 90).

Derry City: Gerard Doherty; Conor McDermott, Aaron Barry, Darren Cole, Dean Jarvis (Nicky Low, 77); Harry Monaghan, Aaron McEneff; Ben Doherty, Barry McNamee, Ronan Curtis; Ronan Curtis.

Referee: Ray Matthews

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Paul Dollery


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