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City and Dundalk final face-off...again

Wednesday, 31st October, 2018 4:36pm

This Sunday, John Caulfield finds himself in familiar territory on the sideline in the Aviva Stadium. It's Cork City's fourth FAI Cup Final in a row and Dundalk have been in the opposite corner every year. City are trying to make it three wins in a row following Dundalk's win in 2015.

However, unlike last year, City are up against the Airtricity League Premier Division winners – Dundalk have recaptured the title after City were winners last year. Pressure, however, isn't for a team of Caulfield's. Last year was the only year City went into the cup final as league champions, for the other two they had finished second to the Lilywhites.

If it hasn't been one, it's been the other for the last five years. So, after relinquishing the league title to a familiar foe, does Caulfield feel the pressure this year? No more than usual, he says.

“We were under huge pressure (in 2016) and Seanie won it; we were under huge pressure last year to try and win a double and you'd love to win the cup but still these guys have been phenomenal this year. We qualified for Europe and we're back in the FAI Cup Final and considering we're a fans-owned club and the way the club is run, we've been boxing way ahead of ourselves over the last number of years.

“Financially we're not in the running with a number of other clubs but what the team has done is massive; the players have been phenomenal, the management have worked hard, but it's great for the supporters and it will be fantastic if we could win the cup. Going to any cup final, you're under pressure because the pressure comes from within because you want to win.”

Dundalk won the league by ten points this year and runners-up City finished 15 ahead of Shamrock Rovers. Chasing the tails of the two leaders in the pack, League of Ireland fans will be waiting a bit longer for another team to break through, it would appear.

Since 2015, in fact, the gap between the top two and the teams underneath has gotten progressively larger. In 2015, Dundalk finished on 78 points, City finished on 67 and Shamrock Rovers were in third on 65 points, and that two point gap between second and third was as good as it's gotten recently. Gaps of eight points and 15 points in 2017 and this season have followed; City may not have come close to Dundalk in the end this year, but it was an achievement in itself that no club came near them after that.

“The consistency within the club in the last five years,” starts Caulfield, “you need to remember when the club was taken over six or seven years ago, the crowds were down to 1,000 people. Out of nothing we went to the last game of the season in the first year. (In) the last five years, the club have been five times in Europe, to not finish outside the top two and four cup finals, selling four or five players in that period, crowds have been averaging 4,500 to 5,000.

“Consistency is there, win or lose on Sunday, the thing has still been consistent but obviously we want to win. From our own point of view it would be phenomenal if we could do that again, but still, the consistency of the last five years has been incredible.

“While on the outside people may get fed up of Dundalk and Cork, that's just the standard that's there at the moment. It’s up to other clubs to break in to that, that’s the way it’s been,” he says.

As for injuries, Karl Sheppard being the biggest concern, Caulfield is hopeful the Dubliner will be available.

“We've a few niggles and stuff which we've had for a few weeks. With the run-in to Sunday, I presume that most lads will be fit for it. We're monitoring Karl, obviously he had a phenomenal semi-final, so he's back in training so we'll give him every chance. The mood is good and to be fair to the lads, it's always been good and why wouldn't it be? Going to the Aviva, going to the Cup Final, fourth year in a row, it's been fantastic. There's a buzz about the boys, if there wasn't, there'd be something wrong.”

Despite winning the league last year, City went in to the final as underdogs last year thanks to a mixed finish to the season. Although the team has enjoyed a number of wins in their last few games, these happened after the league was over with Dundalk winning the title a number of weeks ago. The underdog status, however, doesn't concern Caulfield as it's a label this City team has carried in to every final he has been involved in.

“It doesn't really matter, ultimately we've been the underdogs for the last three years so we've won the last two, so it hasn't affected us. You'd expect that (tag); Dundalk won the league, but at the same time, we can create our own history, be the first team in Cork to ever win three in a row. We're preparing so that obviously we can win the game, so being underdogs doesn't really bother us.”

He continues: “This season has been a phenomenal season, when you consider the turnaround of players that we've had from last year's squad to this year's; to lose seven/eight players from last year and five or six of your starting team who had been part of the league campaign, that's just the way the League of Ireland is.

“We've rebuilt again, it's a testament and credit to this team that they've, again, qualified for Europe. At the start of the year, there was a lot of plans and lots of teams had invested heavily and there was going to be a much stronger challenge, but again, we'd qualified for Europe with seven games to go.

“In a cup final, everyone, when they cross the line, must perform to their best. You have to take into account 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 and thankfully over the last few years we have been able to do that.”

The FAI Cup Final between Cork City and Dundalk is on Sunday 4 November at the Aviva Stadium. Kick-off is at 3.40pm.

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