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Cork City won't sacrifice home comforts for potential clash with Rangers

The Leesiders are set to begin their Europa League campaign against Progres Niederkorn of Luxembourg.

GIVEN THE CLUB’S plummeting home attendances this season, Cork City could have done with a Europa League draw that would cause them to reach for the ‘sold out’ signs.

Game Sold Out signs outside Turner's Cross The turnstiles at Turner's Cross before Cork City's game against Derry City in October 2017. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Turner’s Cross won’t be at full capacity by the time City’s first leg against Progres Niederkorn kicks off at 7.45pm tomorrow. However, if they advance to the second qualifying round at the expense of their opponents from Luxembourg, tickets are certain to be scarce for the visit of Scottish giants Rangers.

With Steven Gerrard’s side expected to see off the challenge of Gibraltar’s St Joseph’s — they lead 4-0 after the first leg — an attractive tie should await Cork City if they can hold their end of the bargain.

The SSE Airtricity League club anticipate a crowd of between 3,500 and 4,000 for their opening European fixture of 2019. A loyalty scheme has been implemented to reward supporters who attend Thursday’s game with a priority purchase option for subsequent rounds, should John Cotter’s side manage to extend their campaign.

Ticket sales for a potential fixture involving the Glasgow outfit at Turner’s Cross wouldn’t take long to reach the maximum figure of over 6,000. Despite the likelihood of demand exceeding supply, Cork City haven’t given serious consideration to hosting the game at a larger venue like Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the home of the GAA on Leeside.

“Obviously we’ll take it one round at a time, but it would be remiss of us not to have preparations in place for a potential game as big as one against Rangers. We’d be under pressure if it did sneak up on us so we are making preliminary plans for that if it does happen,” said Cork City FC chairman Declan Carey.

A view of the crowd at the game Páirc Uí Chaoimh during last September's tribute match for the late Liam Miller. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It’ll be Turner’s Cross all the way. It would be an absolute dream come true, particularly for John Cotter to square off against Steven Gerrard in Turner’s Cross. It’s a stadium John went to as a young fan and he’s a Liverpool fan as well, so it would be unbelievable for John and for the entire club to bring a club of the stature of Rangers here.

“By all means, get them to Turner’s Cross. It’s our home ground and that’s where we feel we’ll perform most effectively. It’s a tight pitch and the crowd are right on top of it. Our players know it like the back of their hands. If they were to cause an upset, that’s where you’d feel they’ll have their best shot at it.

“We’ve nominated Turner’s Cross as our stadium up until the licensing restrictions force us to move, if we end up progressing that far. Turner’s Cross is our home and we have no intention of going elsewhere for now.”

In order to book a second-leg meeting with Rangers in Cork on 1 August, City must get the better of Progres Niederkorn, who themselves caused an upset by eliminating the Gers from the competition in 2017. They built on that result last year, reaching the third qualifying round thanks to victories over Gabala (Azerbaijan) and Honved (Hungary).

Competing in Europe for the past four seasons has earned Cork City over €2million in participation money. They’re guaranteed a minimum of €240,000 from this campaign, a figure that will be topped up by an additional €260,000 if Progres Niederkorn are defeated.

Cardiff MU v Progres - UEFA Europa League - Preliminary Round - Second Leg - Cardiff Athletics Stadium The Progres Niederkorn team prior to their preliminary round second leg against Cardiff Metropolitan University. Source: Simon Galloway

Having recently endured a period of six weeks without a home game, Declan Carey admits that City faced financial challenges due to the lack of gate receipts.

They were forced to speak out last week in response to comments made by a local journalist, who stated that the club is “in crisis” both on and off the field.

A Cork City FC statement expressed “sincere disappointment” with the “incorrect financial position” of the club that was presented by the journalist, who acknowledged that his remarks were “inaccurate” in a subsequent apology.

Speaking earlier this week on the latest episode of the RTÉ Soccer podcast, Declan Carey explained that Cork City’s playing budget was increased by 25-30% last season on the back of their double-winning campaign of 2017. However, John Caulfield’s side failed to build on that success in 2018, relinquishing their Premier Division and FAI Cup crowns to Dundalk.

Although that budget was then decreased by approximately 5% for this year, according to the board of the supporter-owned club, Cork City’s performances on the pitch suffered a drastic decline which ended John Caulfield’s tenure as manager in early May.

20190630_101647433_iOS-e1561891024594 Cork City chairman Declan Carey (left) alongside first-team manager Frank Kelleher and head coach John Cotter. Source: Cork City FC

With average attendances dropping to 2,713 — in contrast to 4,353 in 2017 — the situation has yet to improve to any significant degree under head coach John Cotter, whose team sit in seventh place in the Premier Division table amid a run of six games without a league victory.

Nevertheless, Carey is adamant that there are no concerns over the club’s long-term viability. The chairman insists that City are not under pressure to improve their form in Europe in order to create a more promising financial forecast.

“We never budget for going through any rounds in Europe,” he said. “The budget is based on guaranteed prize money only. I’d imagine the lads feel pressure because they want to progress to the second round to play in a glamour tie for themselves as players. But from the financial side of things, there’s absolutely no pressure on these lads. 

“There’s no denying that it would be fantastic to get through and it would certainly leave the club in a much healthier state. If that happens, brilliant, and I’m sure we’ll toast a few glasses of champagne on the way back from Luxembourg next week if so. But we’re 100% behind the lads and the management team, and the club will still be in a healthy position, regardless of the outcome.”

He added: “The board are very satisfied with the way things are going. Attendances have dropped, we can’t get away from that, it’s a fact. But we’re trying to balance that by bringing in income in other areas of the club.

Sean Maguire and Mark Oliver Roosnupp A Sean Maguire hat-trick against Levadia Tallinn in July 2017 helped Cork City to their last European triumph. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“We did have a difficult period where we didn’t have a home game for six weeks. That was a difficult time and it posed challenges for us. But in the space of a fortnight we’ve had home games in the league against Derry and Bohs, a friendly against Preston and then the Europa League game coming on Thursday as well, so things all of a sudden begin to look a lot better in terms of cash flow.”

The arrival of European fixtures offers John Cotter a chance to lift the mood around the club, while simultaneously allowing the former Cork City midfielder to enhance his case to be given the top job on a permanent basis (once his time on the Uefa Pro Licence course has been completed).

There’s still European progress and a place in a fifth consecutive FAI Cup final at stake for City in 2019, but after a season that can so far be described as a capitulation in the context of what came before it, the club will welcome the opportunity to press ‘reset’ and start afresh for 2020.

“I have no doubt that the playing budget for next year will be highly competitive, as it always has been,” Declan Carey added. “Our budget this year is significantly higher than what we had in 2017, when we won the double. But you win some, you lose some, and that’s just football. We feel it’s not all about budgets anyway. It’s about getting the most out of what you have.

“We’ve been having conversations with John Cotter and the rest of the management team over the last number of weeks about the future of the squad and how it’s assembled. We’ll plan effectively for next year to leave the team and the club in the best position we possibly can.”

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Paul Dollery

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