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City look to kick-on against Dundalk

Thursday, 28th March, 2019 8:54am

Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last time this season, Cork City are coming face-to-face with familiar foes Dundalk.

City travel to Oriel Park on Friday night for the pairs first fixture of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division in 2019. However, what's perhaps a bit different about this tie in comparison with previous seasons, is that the two aren't vying it out for top spot of the league, at least not at this juncture.

It's Shamrock Rovers who lead the league table currently with six wins, a draw and a loss; Dundalk are in second, seven points behind the top, while City are two below them again, in fourth place on ten points, nine behind Rovers and two behind Dundalk.

For City, after a bumpy start, the league form is starting to flow that bit better with three wins and a draw in their last four games, while Dundalk have the same results from the last four, but have yet to lose in the league this year, unlike City.

Consistency, manager John Caulfield says, is key to this Dundalk squad who've largely dominated the league in recent years: “The one thing about Dundalk is that they've been consistent, they more or less have kept the same team – if you look at the back five; (Gary) Rodgers, (Sean) Gannon, (Brian) Gartland, (Sean) Hoare and (Dane) Massey, it's incredible that they've been the back five for the last two or three years which certainly helps.

“Up top they've the usual, (Michael) Duffy, (Patrick) Hoban, (John) Mountney, and (Chris) Shields, then (Jamie) McGrath and (Sean) Murray in the middle of the park, so you look at that and you're saying that they've a lot of the boys that have been with them for three or four years and that stability helps cause they know each others games.”

A trip to Oriel Park, as Caulfield knows well, is a daunting prospect for any team and he's under new illusions as to how City will have to fare, if they're to come away with a decent result.

“We know how difficult it is going up there, there's no doubt that we'll change things around. But at the same time, the last four or five weeks, our form has improved – we've kicked on so it will be a huge test, and we know that nothing but a top performance by us will give us any chance of a result so we know how difficult it can be. We're working very hard and the lads are doing well and we've gotten a few wins over four weeks, it helps the confidence.

“The key is to get a clean sheet and defend well. We're working on areas where we feel we can create opportunities, but certainly going up, Dundalk is hostile, it's a real passionate League of Ireland ground and you have to defend well and concentration is key, particularly when you've a young team, and you're going in to an intense game.

“Even with the way the table has gone, even though it's early doors, they know they have to win to stay with Rovers so it's a huge game from that point of view so we'll have to defend well.”

City and Dundalk have already played once this season in the annual league warm-up tie, the President's Cup, which Dundalk won 2-1 at Turner's Cross. Although the President's Cup doesn't quite hold the weight that a league fixture would, Caulfield certainly learned some valuable lessons in that loss.

“We learned that basically when we played very well we were capable of causing problems and creating chances but at the same time we conceded from two set pieces,” he says.

“We need to be much better because in the last two matches against them we've conceded three goals and that's not good enough from our point of view. They've loads of good players but at the same time the President's Cup did show us that when we were in open play or switched the play, that we cause some problems and we're looking at areas like that. We'll have to play exceptionally well and we know that and if we do that we've a great chance of getting a result.”

Daire O'Connor, one of City's top performers so far this season is a definite absentee along with James Tilley who is suspended while a decision will be made later in the week on Alan Bennett, Gearoid Morrissey and Karl Sheppard.

2019 has seen significant changes for the club with a raft of new players signing on, and with a transitional period in any sports team, results can be hard to obtain.

Despite the shaky start, with two losses in their opening two games, Caulfield's squad is certainly starting to find its feet, a win on Friday night would represent a hugely significant step in the right direction.

“I kept saying that this year with the huge turnaround, a lot of the players that came in were very talented, it's just that sometimes they're naive and having that bit of match day experience,” Caulfield concedes.

“If you look at our first couple of games we lacked that bit of cuteness - so it was never about that there wasn't talent coming through with the young lads, obviously it's disappointing for Daire O'Connor to miss out because he's one of the guys that's done exceptionally well for us, but overall we've still done exceptionally well and when you're winning it does give confidence in the squad.

“When you're working every day and there's a great appetite and great desire among the group, and this year they know they're up against it, but we're all mad to prove that we can stay up the top. For us as a management team, we've to push them that way but it's a huge test for us and probably the biggest test of the season so far.”

Cork City play Dundalk in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division at Oriel Park on Friday 29 March. Kick-off is at 7.45pm.

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