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Fresh start for City

Wednesday, 12th February, 2020 3:47pm

The Airtricity League of Ireland returns this Friday, and with it the chance for Cork City FC to lay the demons of 2019 to rest. An eighth place finish last season was a dismal return for the 2017 double champions.

Not since the 1995/1996 season had Cork City finished in a lower position, they were ninth in the table that year, while despite a mid-season change of manager, City had a shaky run of results before and during that transition period.

2020 represents a new beginning for Neale Fenn. Having not had the chance to set down proper foundations last season, Friday's league opener sees Fenn take the reins for his first full season at Turner's Cross.

Speaking on the off-season, Fenn says he's happy to see the back of it and get down to the proper season ahead. “It’s a pretty stressful time, pre-season, with the change of weather, change of training venues and whether the pitches are going to be too soft. So yeah, it’s good to get that out of the way and focus on the season starting.

“We started to see in the last couple of pre-season games, that what we’ve been working on is going okay; obviously improvements can be made but the general make up of the squad I’m happy with. We’ve got good quality and depth in the young players.”

The off-season has seen the door swing many times in both directions, with players vacating and new recruits arriving on Leeside as part of Fenn's plans.

Among the departed were Aaron Barry, Colm Horgan, Shane Griffin, Conor McCarthy, Karl Sheppard, Conor McCormack, Garry Buckley, Pierce Phillips, Eoghan Stoke, Mark O'Sullivan and Graham Cummins.

Players in include Cian Coleman, Liam Bossin, Charlie Fleming, Rob Slevin, Henry Ochieng, Dylan McGlade, Conor Davis, Corey Galvin, Kyron Stabana, Reyon Dillon and Joe Redmond.

The new look squad will be led by veteran Gearoid Morrissey, the defensive midfielder has been a key player for City but was hampered by injury last season.

Speaking on his new players, Fenn says: “Liam Bossin in goal, he's obviously a very good keeper with good quality and good experience obviously with playing in Belgium and the UK - he just obviously needs more games and the more games he plays, the better he’ll get. Joe Redmond we’ve got on loan from Birmingham, he has very good quality on the ball - exactly what we want from a centre back - but he's also commanding and communicates well.

“We’ve got Henry in midfield, he’s got a good engine and provides good cover and has good quality on the ball. Then Cian Coleman with his athleticism and his drive and his quality too, as he showed when he scored a goal against Longford last weekend.

“We have Reyon upfront who is obviously a target man but he’s got good feet and good pace and we have Dylan McGlade who you know from the league as having a bag of tricks and having good quality, so it’s good that we’ve added those players. Charlie Fleming is another great athlete at right back and Kyron is a good athlete and has good delivery on the ball. Slevin is at centre back and he's a big strong lad and again a good player so we’re happy with the make up of the squad and the new signings and also the lads that re-signed.”

With a new look squad, particularly with a raft of players coming from the UK, Fenn has been working on teaching his team the importance of playing for City and what lies ahead for them in the league.

“It’s important that they buy into what we’re trying to do here, especially the lads that we brought in from the UK. They get it in that they understand what we're about and they understand what it is playing for Cork.

“They've all gelled really well, the fact that they’re all around about the same age helps. Even the experienced boys that are here have helped them do that and let them know what we expect and the kind of culture that we are trying to create here.”

Friday's opener sees City welcome Shelbourne to Turner's Cross. The newly-promoted Dublin side will be a tough test, Fenn says, and will be looking to make their mark in Cork.

“I think Friday will be a tough game, any first game of the season is tough it’s going to be cagey and it’s going to be tight. No one wants to give anything away and no one wants to lose their first game of the season so I’m expecting Shels to come out and be difficult to beat. I’ve got good experience of playing against them last season (when Fenn was Longford manager) and I know what they can do. They’ll come up with a plan of how to beat us. They’ll be one of the contenders for Europe possibly so it certainly is a game that we want to try and win.

“When I was playing in the league, Shelbourne were our biggest rivals, they were massive games so it’s great to reignite that and I’m sure they'll bring a big crowd down from Dublin and I’m sure that we'll have a big home crowd cheering us on.”

The team selection on Friday will be an interesting one, with a raft of new players Fenn will be handing debuts to a number of them.

“We have a selection headache for Friday, a lot of lads have picked up niggles during pre-season but as it comes towards the start of the season, everyone is raring to go. Colin Davis will be the only one unavailable to us which is a shame, but we're happy enough with what we’ve got and the squad with got and it does leave me with a headache,” says Fenn.

“Cork City are a massive club and you can’t be a massive club without expectation so we’ve explained to the players that no matter what anybody says, there’s going to be expectation on us. We need to worry about every part of our game, keeping goals out of one end and scoring them at the other end, so everyone is the same. We'll be set up with good attackers that will be a threat to teams.

“We never get too high when we win and we never get to low when we lose, so from my point of view, we just need to believe in what we’re doing. If we win Friday great, but we won't think that we’re going to go on and win the league. And if we lose on Friday we don’t think we’re going to get relegated - football is not like that so we have to believe in what we are doing, show a good performance, show a good workrate and I’m sure then the fans will start getting a bit of confidence in us.”

As for his prediction for City's chances in 2020, Fenn says he's not going to set expectations, but take each match as it comes.

“We'll take it week by week. We know it’s difficult when you're bringing a lot of new players in from outside, especially young players that are not used to playing first-team football, it does take time but it’s also an exciting time as well. Who knows where some of these boys' careers are going to end and we are getting them early. I’m excited about watching them and I’m excited about seeing them in matches. I watch them in training and I think a few of them have got what it takes to go all the way, so it’s exciting for us, it’s exciting for the club and it’s exciting for the fans that we all get to see these players.”

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