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Dublin: 19 °C Friday 29 May, 2020

Caulfield's legendary status and passion might ultimately have been his downfall

John O’Sullivan looks at the changing of the guard at Cork City.

Caulfield: typified Cork City.
Caulfield: typified Cork City.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

I’M NOT SURE what game it was.

I was walking to Turner’s Cross last year with my 10-year-old son. We were early as usual; him wanting to soak up every sight, sound and smell prior to kick off, my focus on getting a good parking spot with the car turned to get him home before 11pm so he’d sleep some before whatever activity the Saturday would bring.

As the Horseshoe Bar came into view, John Caulfield appeared from our left, a bag on his shoulder, hunched up against the weight. He was looking ahead and moving on with the busy quick stride that you saw on the touchline.

I uttered a quick “Good luck tonight, John”. He half-turned with a “Thanks”, recognised me and slowed his pace, walking the couple of minutes to the ground with us. We chatted easily and he asked my son if he was playing football, practicing hard and listening to his coaches.

We separated at the gate and he was off. My son was starstruck and the first thing he said was “John Caulfield knows you, Dad”. I went up a notch in his estimation.

To a huge number of people – my son included – John Caulfield typified Cork City: passionate as a player, the club’s record appearance holder and record goalscorer – level with Pat Morley. People would joke that he should register himself as a player and come on some day to take a penalty just to push that single goal beyond Pat.

He was inducted into the Cork City Hall of Fame before he was ever manager. He went on to impress just as much as a manager. He’s played a direct part in eight of the 10 major trophies City have won since 1984. His status as a club legend was cemented long ago and only enhanced over the past number of years.

I think it was time to go, but a lot of that comes from the heart rather than the head because results since the start of the season weren’t good. The heart heard the boos at the end of matches and saw the comments online. Despite the sense I held that Caulfield might be able to turn things around with a fit Daire O’Connor back in the side, there was a chance that the damage done to his legacy and relationship with the club could have turned sour.

I think it must have been a tremendously difficult decision for the current Cork City board. On the face of it, a relatively new board has parted company with the club’s most successful ever manager less than halfway through a season where – despite the run of results – the club are just 11 points off European football with 66 points left to play for. But with just three points taken from the last 24, they had little choice but to act.

The irony is that – in my opinion – his legendary status, his force of personality and the passion he has for the club was the reason for his downfall and the reason that the current board couldn’t afford to continue on the current path. In my opinion, the trouble started at the end of the 2017 season, in the aftermath of the high of the double win.

With Champions League money to come from Uefa, money in the bank from the transfers of Seanie Maguire and Kevin O’Connor, league and FAI Cup prize money, the board of Cork City took the strange choice to give a manager whose success had come from polishing diamonds and exceeding expectations all the money they had in the bank. Through the 2018 season, Cork City carried a massive squad of quality players, many of whom we never got the chance to see play. Fans would joke about the number of defenders we had, wondering if we could field a team made up entirely of full-backs.

Barry McNamee was worth a gamble, but it failed to pay off and we played much of the season – despite all the additions – more or less with the team that had been successful in 2017 – swapping Graham Cummins for Seanie Maguire. Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers outspent us in 2018 as the accounts from all clubs show, but the gamble to go big and retain the league didn’t pay off; the Champions League money was gone, the FAI prize money was lower, and there was no income from player transfers.

The budget had to go back to 2017 levels, while portrayed as a budget cut – which it was year on year – it was simply that all the bonus income in 2017 had been blown through 2018.

The issue with going back to 2017 levels was that City needed to sustain a crowd of around 4,000 at home games, which was a simple task when they were battling for the top two with Dundalk but even at the AGM this year, many couldn’t believe the outgoing board had set it as a target for 2019. Once results dipped this year and many supporters drifted away – only 1,800 people attended last Monday’s game against Finn Harps – the club’s run, and Caulfield’s role became a financial as well as a competitive concern.

Unfortunately for John Caulfield, his status and passion meant that the 2017 board gave in to his every wish. Either they weren’t strong enough to say no to him, or they allowed themselves to be swept up by his passion and his energy. That has had the knock-on effect that the current board couldn’t afford to be more patient and to give him more time to turn things around.

Lots of Cork City fans are looking at the current board and Chairman in disbelief over the decision, but if they are going to direct anger at the administrative side of the club, they need to look back to 2017.

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Andy Dunne to discuss all the week’s rugby news.:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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