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'We're absolutely massive underdogs and no one probably gives us any chance at all'

John Caulfield is hoping his side can cause a major upset at the expense of the 13-time Polish champions.

Cork City Press Conference Cork City manager John Caulfield at a recent press conference. Source: Sam Barnes

EMBARKING ON HIS fourth consecutive European campaign as Cork City manager, John Caulfield did his utmost to insist that this one is no different to its predecessors: “Europe is Europe, whether it’s the Europa League or the Champions League.”

Nevertheless, the wry smile on Caulfield’s face as he surveyed the unusually large number of reporters at this afternoon’s press conference was an acknowledgement of the added significance of City’s first appearance in Europe’s premier club competition in 12 years.

“A lot of our supporters have been saying for eight or nine months that they can’t wait for the Champions League music, so that’s nice. But from our own point of view it’s a European tie and I look forward to that.”

Caulfield has presided over Europa League victories against Linfield, BK Hacken and Levadia Tallinn, but the challenge posed by Legia Warsaw in their first round qualifier is likely to be a level above anything he has faced so far during a tenure that began in 2014.

As both a manager and a player, Caulfield has experienced some big European nights over the course of a long association with Cork City Football Club. Being involved in a memorable 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich in the Uefa Cup in 1991 was a career highlight for the joint-leading goalscorer in the club’s history.

Legia, who arrived in Cork today ahead of tomorrow evening’s sold-out first leg at Turner’s Cross, have recorded some impressive results in Europe in recent seasons, including draws with Real Madrid and Ajax, and a victory over Sporting Lisbon.

Legia Warsaw v Arka Gdynia - Polish Cup final Legia Warsaw won a league and cup double in Poland last season. Source: Foto Olimpik

While their squad has changed significantly since, Caulfield pointed to their controversial tie against Celtic in the 2014-15 season to illustrate the stature of the 13-time Polish champions. Legia’s 6-1 aggregate win was later overturned after Bartosz Bereszynski, who was suspended, came on as a substitute in the 88th minute of the second leg.

“They’re a formidable outfit,” Caulfield said. “It’s fantastic for a club like us. Playing in our country, living off the crumbs in our league, trying to be professional and doing everything as right as you can, it’s an honour then to go and play a team like Legia. Massive club, phenomenal players, a lot of international players.”

He added: “Obviously they’re overwhelming favourites, they’re a fantastic team who create lots of chances and score goals. But football is football and sport is unlike any other business. You always look for the underdog to create a shock.

“We’ve done an awful lot of work over the last few days, looking at them and analysing them, and while they’re a super team with fantastic players, you always look for the chink of light that will give you the opportunity to maybe cause an upset. But it’s a wonderful honour for us to be playing a team of this magnitude.

“Possibly other than Bayern Munich, they [Legia] are probably the biggest team — financially and everything about them — that this club has played. We’ve played other good teams — Genk, Malmo — but these are probably a team at a higher level, certainly in the bigger financial picture, than all the other teams, bar Bayern Munich.

“It’s an honour for us to be playing them and we’re looking forward to the occasion. Our supporters are looking forward to it. We’re hoping to get the ground packed early on and maybe the surroundings of our pitch, they may not be used to because they’re playing in fantastic stadiums all over Poland. We’ll wait and see but we’re all looking forward to it.”

Legia Warszawa v KS Polonia Bytom - Polish First Division The Polish Army Stadium will play host to next week's second leg. Source: Getty Images

The second leg will be played on Tuesday, 17 July at the Polish Army Stadium, which can cater for over 31,000 spectators. The prize for the winners is a tie against Spartak Trnava (Slovakia) or HŠK Zrinjski Mostar (Bosnia & Herzegovina) in the second qualifying round, while the losers will revert to the third qualifying round of the Europa League.

Caulfield, who last season guided City to their first Premier Division crown since 2005, said: “European football is special. It takes you away from your own domestic league and you invariably play clubs that are on a totally different level — not only football-wise, but the whole package.

“They come from football industries. Unfortunately in Ireland, our industry isn’t here. That’s just not the way it is. They’re from proper football countries, proper football industries, so when you go to these clubs there’s different cultures, different styles of play, better players, players that are used to playing in front of 30,000 and 40,000 [spectators] every week.

“It’s a fantastic experience for us. We’re always learning. When you look back at your own career, European football was phenomenal because you’re coming across all different cultures and that’s what you want to test yourself off.

“We’re absolutely massive underdogs and no one probably gives us any chance at all. We understand that. But you always hope for them to have an off-day and we may have a fantastic day. That’s why there’s shocks in sport. That’s what we all live for.

“We’re prepared and we know how difficult it’s going to be. But at the same time, we’ve looked at areas where we need to do certain things right. If we do then you’d never know. Then you have a chance.”

Kick-off tomorrow at Turner’s Cross is at 7.45pm.

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Paul Dollery

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