Sam Curtin, Deputy Sports Editor
This time last year, the alarm bells began to sound as Cork lost their first three games of the season without scoring a goal while conceding ten scores in the process. From there, the season went from bad to worse on and off the pitch with the team losing its Premier Division status, the competition they won only three years previously.
Off the pitch, rumours of Cork City’s money troubles began to firmly take hold and was publicly admitted by Declan Carey that the club was in serious difficulty. This was compounded by the severe lack of well-known signings and the Covid-19 pandemic setting in which meant that all the playing staff had to go on furlough due to the lack of gate revenue coming into the club which is the primary source of income for Irish clubs.
All of these woes, however, were put into perspective with the tragic passing of club legends John Kennedy, Finbarr O’Shea and Jim Hennebry, all of whom signified everything that’s good about the League of Ireland. It won’t be the same without them.
These setbacks are without even mentioning the proposed takeover by billionaire Trevor Hemmings which fell through as a result of a disagreement with the Munster FA over the leasing of Turners Cross. Hemmings and his company Grovemoor Ltd are believed to have wanted to purchase the ground but this was refused. Hemmings has not ruled out buying the club in the future and it is widely believed that he is providing some financial assistance to the club in the background. In fact, for the past two seasons, Hemmings has been instrumental in acquiring a playing licence for Cork which shows just how dire the financial situation has been with club Chairman Declan Carey admitting that the club is going to be operating on a part time basis this season.
Neale Fenn was sacked in October and replaced by another club legend in the form of Colin Healy on an interim basis. Despite lacking in experience and failing to stave off relegation, Healy brought through a number of young players whom he worked with in the under-19s, and the brand of football improved slightly despite the limited time with the players. The Ballincollig man was confirmed as the full time boss in the off season and the hope is that he is the man to turn the Rebel Army’s fortunes around in the First Division which is easier said than done.
One of the main positives for Healy is the retention of the club’s most promising young players such as Ronan Hurley, Cian Bargery and club stalwart Gearóid Morrissey who will once again captain the club. Morrissey in particular is a big coup considering he has been one of the best midfielders in the country for the past seven years and could have easily signed with a top Premier Division club. Cult hero Steven Beattie is also back from a stint in America which will provide much needed experience to a talented but raw squad that will need to be more streetwise in a season that will demand a combination of clear long-term direction but also focusing on getting results each week.
So far the signs have been relatively promising, albeit we only have the pre-season games to assess so far. One of the main criticisms last season was the severe lack of goals with only 10 in 18 games while 30 were conceded at the other end. Cork got 3 against Waterford in their last preseason game while they were more creative against the likes of champions Shamrock Rovers and St. Pats which is refreshing to see. The Rebel Army start their campaign at home against Cobh Ramblers on March 26th in what promises to be a hugely intriguing derby game to commence the season. While it would be great to have fans there for a unique game in Irish football, the Watch LOI is back for another season and will provide fans the chance to watch all of their team’s games until stadiums can be full again.
The main question is, will they go up the table? No club is too big to go down or entitled to a brisk promotion back to the top table. As the saying goes, you can’t win anything with kids, but as we have witnessed with City in the past couple of years for the wrong reasons, anything can happen. Whatever happens on the pitch, matters off the pitch; it may dictate success this season with long term stability an absolute must for the sake of the club but also for football in this county.