The deliberate success of Cork City

turnerscrossLast night Cork City took advantage of Dundalk’s slip up in Bray to go one point clear at the top of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division. A rather incredible, if fortuitous, goal from Billy Dennehy gave John Caulfield’s side the three points and it was richly deserved. Amazingly, the league will now be decided on the final day as the two contenders, Dundalk and Cork, face off at Oriel Park next Friday in what is sure to be an exhilarating spectacle.

I have been covering Cork City throughout the 2014 season and after the game, as the players completed a lap of honour to thank the fans for their support, I reflected on how magical a journey this year has been for the Leesiders and everyone associated with the club. It struck me that this year’s success did not happen by chance; it is deliberate. It is the product of hard work and dedication from the very top down to grassroots level.

We can now say with absolute certainty that  John Caulfield’s appointment as successor to Tommy Dunne was an inspired move. Having stuttered to a sixth-place finish in 2013 under Dunne, Caulfield set the bar relatively high and declared that his aim was to challenge in the cups and to push for European qualification. Needing only a point in the last game of the season to win the league, the former Avondale United manager is on course to surpass those expectations and deserves tremendous credit for the team’s resolute performances during this campaign. It is also worth noting the manner in which Caulfield has carried himself in his first season as manager of a senior club. A legend on Leeside, he commands respect but, despite his colossal stature, he remains charmingly courteous and accommodating; a perfect figurehead for a club which revolves around its fans.

As well as delivering magnificently on the field, Cork City employees and volunteers have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to energise their local community and that was wonderfully encapsulated when 6,219 supporters transformed Turner’s Cross into a raucous cauldron in a fitting finale for the club’s last home game of the season. They have  rightly had their efforts recognised, too, winning a Football Association of Ireland (FAI) communications award for ‘Best Social Media Initiative’, while Turner’s Cross was recently crowned the 2014 SSE Airtricity League Pitch of the Year – winning the accolade for the second time, having previously won in 2011. From those manning the club shop to administrators, the people involved with the club are among the most welcoming I have met.

Now, less than a decade since Cork suffered from serious financial problems and doubts hung over their existence, they are back at the summit of Irish football and, although the league campaign is not over, it is fair to say that their season has already been a roaring success. They have managed to maintain consistently high attendances (as well as bringing substantial numbers to away games) and, in a shining testimony to the club’s impressive youth structures, they cashed in on a bright young prospect as 20-year-old Brian Lenihan joined English Premier League side Hull City. As they close in on league glory, they are in bonus territory.

Clubs across Ireland can learn a lot from how, with the help of supporters, they resurrected themselves. Regional clubs, in particular, should look to emulate what has been achieved, for, while Corkonians take great pride in their sense of uniqueness, their football club need not be an exception. Indeed, in a recent press conference, John Caulfield argued that the League of Ireland needs strong regional clubs such as Cork City in order to capture the imagination of the public on a national scale.

While Sligo Rovers have been to the fore of the Irish game in recent years and Dundalk have returned to prominence under the stewardship of Stephen Kenny, other clubs continue to struggle for a variety of reasons. However, Cork City’s story this season offers hope and, more importantly, proof of what clubs can achieve given the right leadership both on and off the pitch.

Video: Eric Barry/Fermoyboy via Youtube

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