BY GER McCARTHY
JOHN Caulfield leads Cork City into a new SSE Airtricity League of Ireland Premier Division campaign, starting away to Sligo Rovers on Saturday night (7.45pm), hoping to go one better than last season’s second place finish.
The memories of that fateful night in Oriel Park when Dundalk cemented the title are still fresh and certain to be a motivating factor for City’s squad this term.
Dundalk took nine points off Cork en route to claiming the 2014 Premier Division crown so bridging the gap to the reigning champions as well as seeing off renewed Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic challenges will be crucial to City’s title aspirations.
Cork City’s manager has been busy in the transfer market during the off-season with the acquisition of Liam Miller and Alan Bennett’s return enhancing an already experienced squad.
Unsurprisingly, Miller’s signing grabbed plenty of media attention and the sight of the former Manchester United midfielder hooking up with childhood friend Colin Healy in the centre of the park during pre-season bodes well for the upcoming campaign.
Healy, a former Republic of Ireland international, is enthused about the prospect of teaming up with his ex-Celtic colleague once again.
‘I have known Liam (Miller) for many years, played with him at schoolboys level and he is a quality player,’ Healy told The Southern Star.
‘It is great to have such an experienced player beside me at Cork City now. I’d like to think we can develop a useful midfield partnership during the coming season but there are lots of other quality players in the squad as well.
‘We will be competing with the likes of Gary Buckley, Liam Kearney and Billy Dennehy for a starting place which makes for good competition in the middle of the park and will hopefully drive us on.’
It will be interesting to see how Miller fares in the frenetic-paced midfield area of League of Ireland football but any player that possesses the former Perth and Brisbane player’s close control and ability to pick out a killer pass should certainly enhance Cork’s chances of success.
Billy Dennehy’s pace and ability to provide a regular supply of ammunition for City’s attacking division will be another important weapon in City’s arsenal.
Cautious optimism then ahead of another League of Ireland season where European football returns to Turner’s Cross and hopefully the huge crowds that supported John Caulfield’s side throughout the previous campaign.
Wrestling the title away from a Dundalk side team that recently re-signed Richie Towell and retains the core of the squad that delivered success in 2014 will not be easy.
Holding off Pat Fenlon’s Shamrock Rovers, who now include the midfield pairing of Keith Fahey and Stephen McPhail, will be just as hard, not to mention a potential title challenge from FAI Cup winners St Patrick’s Athletic.
Colin Healy agrees that there are three main threats to City’s Airtricity Premier Division championship hopes.
‘There is no doubt in my mind that Dundalk, St Pat’s and (Shamrock) Rovers will all be there or there about this season,’ said Healy.
‘Hopefully we will be in amongst them too because they have been busy in the transfer market themselves and signed some really good players.
‘Looking back on last season, most people didn’t give us much of a chance at winning the title. I thought we would give it a good go considering the amount of players John brought in resulting in a very talented team.
‘Some pundits were predicting a top four finish at best for us but I believed we could do better and we did. Hopefully, we can have just as good a season this time around and as many people as possible come out and support us. The atmosphere at Turner’s Cross is always something special when there is a full house. It inspired the team last season.’
Caulfield’s squad face a difficult opening to 2015 beginning with a tough away fixture in the Showgrounds against Owen Heary’s Sligo before a must-win derby at home to Limerick.
March 20th sees City on their travels once again, taking on Shamrock Rovers in the capital and a busy month concludes with Galway United visiting Turner’s Cross and a trip to Bray Wanderers.