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'It's a privileged time in their careers and it should never be taken for granted'

Cork City boss John Caulfield wants his players to savour the club’s fourth FAI Cup final in a row.

TWENTY YEARS AGO, John Caulfield played his part on the field as Cork City prevented Shelbourne from becoming the only club other than Shamrock Rovers to win three consecutive FAI Cups.

After a goalless draw in the 1998 decider with Shels — who were under the stewardship of ex-City manager Damien Richardson — the Leesiders clinched the silverware for the first time in their history thanks to Derek Coughlan’s header in the replay at Dalymount Park.

inpho_00012944 John Caulfield (wearing the top of the FAI Cup as a hat) celebrating with his team-mates after the 1998 final. Source: INPHO

Third time was a charm for Caulfield, as City’s joint-leading goalscorer in history won the competition for the first — and only — occasion as a player, having already been on the losing side in two previous finals (1989 against Derry City and 1992 against Bohemians).

Tomorrow afternoon, with John Caulfield steering the ship, Cork City will have an opportunity to achieve what Shelbourne were unable to do two decades ago. The FAI Cup winners of 2016 and ’17 will be back at the Aviva Stadium for another duel with Dundalk.

“That was a different era,” Caulfield says of the 1998 final. “It was a fantastic moment because it was the first time the club had won the FAI Cup. I think it was my 12th or 13th year in the League of Ireland. You’re coming to the end of your career and we had lost a couple of finals, so you could have ended up with no cup winners’ medal at the end of your career.

“It was an emotional day, it was after a replay and we were the underdogs against Shelbourne. There were a lot of scenarios. Damien [Richardson] was the manager at Shels at the time as well. It was a great occasion as our first cup win.

“A lot of us got our first cup medal when it looked like we weren’t going to get one. At that time, 20 years ago, it was a great place to be, but that’s obviously a long way from my thoughts at the moment.”

inpho_00012969 Caulfield gets away from Shelbourne's Tony McCarthy during the 1998 FAI Cup final. Source: INPHO

For some of Caulfield’s squad, tomorrow’s game will be a fourth FAI Cup final appearance in succession. They also reached the last stage in 2015, losing out to an extra-time goal from Dundalk’s Richie Towell.

The showpiece fixture has by now become an annual tradition for both clubs, but the City boss — who reached three FAI Cup finals in a 16-year playing career — says it’s important for players to treat each final as a unique occasion.

“I don’t talk about myself to the lads because I’m an old man to them. They’re young players, they don’t remember that era,” said Caulfield, whose 455 appearances as a player for Cork City is a club record.

“But I do stress the point that — playing in a fourth cup final — it’s a privileged time in their careers and it should never be taken for granted. There are lots of teams out there that don’t get to cup finals, lots of teams who haven’t won the cup in 30/40 years. You just have to enjoy the occasion because you may not get there again.

“To be there for four in a row, considering the club had five finals in 25 or 26 years [previously], shows you that it’s a purple patch. But I can understand as well that it’s very hard as a player.

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John Caulfield Caulfield pictured during his pre-match press conference earlier this week. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Young Conor McCarthy, 20 years of age, he comes out of U19s football, he’s been around the club for the last couple of years, he was in a cup final and then another cup final. When you tell them that you might not get to one again, it’s hard. They’re not going to believe you.

“The older boys — the likes of [Mark] McNulty, Benno [Alan Bennett], Damien Delaney — can see that it’s an opportunity that they’re lucky to be part of. But you need to make the most of it.”

After regaining the Premier Division title at Cork City’s expense, double-chasing Dundalk are the bookies’ favourites to win the FAI Cup for the 11th time. However, Caulfield has dismissed the relevance of the oddsmakers’ outlook.

“That doesn’t really matter,” he said. “We’ve been the underdogs for the last three years. We’ve won the last two [finals], so it hasn’t affected us. You’d expect [Dundalk to be favourites] with the fact that they won the league. 

“At the same time, we could create our own history by being the first team in Cork ever to win three in a row. We’re obviously preparing so that we can win the game. Being underdogs doesn’t really bother us.”

Cork City players celebrate the Kieran Sadlier kicking the winning penalty Cork City players celebrate after their penalty-shooutout win against Dundalk last year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Caulfield added: “Obviously there are areas where we know they’re vulnerable. But at the same time, we have to play exceptionally well ourselves. That’s part and parcel of it. On cup final day, everyone — when they cross the line — must perform to their best.

“You have to take into account that it’s an emotional day. Families are involved, nerves can play a huge part, so you need to be able to handle and manage that. Thankfully over the last couple of years we have been able to do that.

“From that point of view, obviously we’re looking at areas where we can exploit some of their weaknesses.”

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