'Games like this are the reason we play football' - Cork City's Donegal man Dunleavy

The 23-year-old midfielder couldn’t be happier with the Rebels ahead of Friday’s title decider.

Dunleavy has been at Cork for the past two years.
Dunleavy has been at Cork for the past two years.
Image: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

WHEN JOHNNY DUNLEAVY was a Wolverhampton Wanderers trainee he had a Finn Harps scarf hanging above his bed.

A native of Ballybofey, the hometown of Finn Harps, the now 23-year-old grew up supporting his heroes; idolising players like Kevin McHugh and Tom Mohan.

Although Harps propelled themselves briefly back into the public eye this season in the FAI Cup — reaching the semi-final only to be stripped bare in a 6-1 hammering by St Patrick’s Athletic — those who huddle on the sparsely populated terraces have had few reasons to cheer since the heady days of the 1970s.

On Friday night, Donegal’s footballing fraternity will be lending their support to Dunleavy and Cork City, who need a point in their final fixture of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division season to win the title. Dundalk, their opponents at Oriel Park, sit two points behind and require nothing short of a win.

Games like this are the reason footballers play football,” Dunleavy says. “It’s going to be a massive occasion.”

Dunleavy’s father Brendan, the current Sean MacCumhaill’s manager, was an inter-county footballer for 14 years, playing 137 times for Donegal in the pre-qualifier era; winning an Ulster championship in 1983.

His eldest son was a fine Gaelic footballer, featuring for Donegal’s U-16’s alongside 2012 All-Ireland winner Mark McHugh.

But having impressed for Ballybofey United, Dunleavy spent his 16th birthday in July 2007 making the move to Wolves.

His first two years were a success, so much so the central defender signed a professional contract in May 2009 before a freak injury curtailed his progress.

“I went to watch my brother Rory playing for Ulster at Shrewsbury that August,” Dunleavy recalls. “On the way to the car, I stood on the kerb and could feel something was wrong. I got it checked out and was told there was a bad break to the fifth metatarsal.”

A routine procedure got complicated, with the fracture having to be reopened to insert a pin. An infection then was contracted. Ahead of the 2009/10 campaign, Dunleavy lined out for Wolves’ first team against Walsall in a pre-season friendly, only to later suffer a recurrence.

Having battled back to fitness, Dunleavy, loaned to Barnet, made his English league debut in January 2011. At Wolves two months later, in on a day off to try and recuperate from a knee ligament injury, he was invited into the manager’s office.

I always got on with Mick McCarthy,” Dunleavy adds. “He said he was sorry but because of my injuries, he wouldn’t be able to offer me a new deal. There was nothing he could do.

“I thanked him for everything and said ‘I hope I prove you wrong.’ As he was shaking my hand he said ‘I hope you do too.’ Mick, in fairness, was sound and always to the point. But getting released was horrific. Nobody can prepare you for it.”

A trial at MK Dons came and went and although six months in the colours of Vancouver Whitecaps in Canada was an experience, it was only that.

“I felt I’d something to offer,” Dunleavy, who represented Ireland up to U-21 level, adds. “With the injuries, I didn’t know exactly how good I could be and because of that clubs didn’t either. When Cork came in for me I jumped at the chance.”

John Dunleavy celebrates scoring Source: Cathal Noonan

Newly-promoted Cork consolidated in 2012 with a sixth-place finish, only to conclude last season in the same position. Manager John Caufield saw enough in Dunleavy to make him club captain.

Dunleavy, who now operates in midfield, says of Caufield: “He is so passionate about Cork City. At the start of the season we wanted to make sure we made the European spots. We were quietly confident having put a good squad together. But we’ve just gone on a run.

“Cork is a class city and the support has been amazing. I love it here. The people have always made me feel welcome. It’d be brilliant to win the title for them.”

Should Cork win the Premier Division on Friday for the first time since 2005, the cheers will be deafening from the south-west. They might just be heard from way off in the north-west, too.

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About the author:

Alan Foley

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