Cork City's Date With Destiny
I've had this feeling in the pit of my stomach since full time last Friday night.
You know the feeling. It's the one you have when you don't have your homework done and it's five to nine. It's the one where your missus has asked you to do something while she's at work, you've completely forgotten, you've spent the day watching cartoons while eating Corn Flakes in your pyjamas and you've just heard her put the key in the front door.
It's the same feeling I had on that amazing night in Turner's Cross in October 2005.
Things are different this time around though. In 2005 Steven Kenny's Derry City came to Turner's Cross needing not to lose to be crowned champions. Damien Richardson's Cork City played them off the park in a 2-0 win to lift the league trophy for just the second time in their history. This time, City go to Steven Kenny's Dundalk, needing not to lose to be crowned champions. It's terribly exciting.
And utterly nerve wrecking at the same time.
Let's call a spade a spade here. Not many people expected Cork City to be in this position before the 2014 season kicked off. The 2013 season petered out following the sacking of Tommy Dunne, the Dubliner bringing the club as far as he could before being replaced by Stuart Ashton on a temporary basis.
John Caulfield's arrival before Christmas brought a new wave of optimism. A club legend taking the helm. He'd done it at local level with Avondale United and UCC. Could he make the step up?
There was talk of a top four finish. There was talk of Europe in 2015. Wiser birds were more cautious, simply hoping for an improvement on the 2013 season. But to hear the words "Cork", "City", and "Europe" being mentioned in the same sentence was exciting.
Anyone would have laughed if you had said that City would be top of the table heading into the last game. Yet here we are. It hasn't been pretty this year. The Rebel Army have ground teams down. They've scored a lot of late goals, which is a tribute both to their desire to keep going to the final whistle, and the strength and conditioning program at the club that has allowed them to keep going when other teams have tired. In recent weeks they've developed a frustrating ability to sit back once they've taken the lead, and allow inferior teams to dictate the game and put pressure on them - the wins against Sligo Rovers and Drogheda United at Turner's Cross in recent weeks were not for the faint of heart.
However, it's all about results. And you can't argue with City's recent form. They've won their last six on the bounce, stretching back to the win over Shamrock Rovers at the start of September. It's a run of form that has seen them go a point clear of a faltering Dundalk. And if that run of form can continue for another 90 minutes on Friday, John Caulfield will have done what most of us would have thought was impossible and will have brought the league title back to Leeside.
It's a dizzying thought.
City fans whom I've spoken to in recent days have argued that they'd rather City going to Oriel Park on Friday needing a win. I can see their point. As I mentioned above, City invite teams on to them and soak up the pressure when they need to secure a result. Caulfield has made the right noises this week, saying after Friday's win over Bohemians that he'll be approaching the league decider in the only manner he knows how - he'll be going for the win. In reality, I can see a well organised and focussed Cork City team battening down the hatches and trying to soak up the early Dundalk pressure, to frustrate them and hopefully, force a mistake that can be captialised upon. They'll set up for a draw I think, but the team selection on Friday will reveal a lot.
I think John O'Flynn may make way in favour of Josh O'Shea (that's a lot of rhyming). Mark O'Sullivan is going to have a long 90 minutes up top on his own, asked to run at defenders and out muscle them in the air, as he's been doing so expertly this season. Across the middle of the park I think City will have their two holding midfielders in Colin Healy and skipper Johnny Dunleavy, with a midfield trio of Gary Buckley, O'Shea and Billy Dennehy, with a back four of Ross Gaynor, Darren Dennehy, Dan Murray and Gavin Kavanagh. Mark McNulty's goal will be well protected.
It's going to be a long, long 90 minutes in Oriel Park on Friday. But it's a test I think Caulfield and his team will pass.
Bring on Friday night.
"WE'RE COMING FOR YOU"
More from Sport
PREVIEW : Cork v Kilkenny, All Ireland Camogie Championship Semi Final
Sarah Stanley previews the clash between old rivals Cork and Kilkenny in Páirc uí Chaoimh on Saturday.
"Different Class" - tributes paid to Diego Maradona
The world of football is in mourning following the passing of Diego Maradona in his native Argentina at the age of 60.
Dundak's Flores shortlisted for Puskás Award
Dundalk midfielder Jordan Flores has been nominated for FIFA's Puskás Award.
Big news in the Wee County as Mickey Harte installed as football boss
Louth pulled off a coup last night with the announcement that Mickey Harte will be their new manager.
Cork prepare for All Ireland Camogie Championship semi final
To the fascinated observer looking on from the sideline, without attachment to either of the protagonists, last year’s Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship Semi-Final between Cork and Galway was one for the ages.
Ronan McCarthy to take time to consider Cork future
Cork football boss Ronan McCarthy says he won't rush in to a decision on his future with the county.