By Sam Curtin
Cork City’s First Division campaign came to an end on the 29th of October with an impressive 3-0 win over Galway United managed by former City legend John Caulfield. It ensured a mid-table, 6th place finish for the Rebel Army in what has been a season of what-ifs and green shoots for Colin Healy’s team.
Going into the season, City were seen as potential promotion contenders if they could find a goalscorer and a consistent run of form. Unfortunately, neither of these came to pass. Couple this with a slow start and a number of matches where City conceded late goals to drop points and a mid-table finish is a fair reflection of the season as a whole. Any team which draws nine and loses ten is always going to be up against it. Couple with the more experienced players such as Mark McNulty, Steven Beattie and captain Gearóid Morrissey, all were double winners in 2017 and it paints a slightly more disappointing picture as a whole.
Despite this, the younger generation began to step up to the plate as the season progressed. Without a doubt, one of the real positives is the blooding of young players albeit by necessity due to the lack of funds available to purchase talent. With the club’s financial situation still hanging in the balance, the academy was always going to provide the backbone of the team which proved to be the case. Academy graduates such as Alec Byrne, Ronan Hurley and Cian Bargery became key players this season even for their young. Seeing 17-year-old Cathal Heffernan, a player scouted by a number of English and European clubs make his debut against Galway is another ringing endorsement of youth on Healy’s part.
Dave Harrington kept a couple of impressive clean sheets towards the latter end of the season as he came in place of stalwart Mark McNulty. Big shoes to fill, to say the least but he looks more than capable of stepping up to the plate. To see local boys who grew up in Cork representing the club is something which is rarely seen in professional football nowadays.
As for next season? One of the key tasks is to retain the young players for another season, away from the prying eyes of the Premier Division clubs. This appears to be going well with players such as Ronan Hurley and Cian Bargary already signed up for next season. Continuity is crucial when trying to build a team and this is arguably one of the more impressive feats achieved by Healy in that the team is clearly building an identity in how they want to play. As with any team, signings are crucial to freshen up the squad and provide competition for places. Former Shelbourne defender Allie Gilchrist certainly fits the mould and will provide plenty of experience to the younger players in the squad and the defensive unit which continued to improve as the season went on. Four clean sheets in their last five games is a testament to that.
As for the field issue, the financial situation is still in purgatory. The death of Trever Hemmings, who wanted to buy the club is a big blow as he was someone who helped the club in their most desperate time in need in 2020 where he gave the club €200,000 in order to pay for a Premier Division licence at the team. While his son has taken over the family operations, it is unclear as to whether Grovemoor, the business interested in taking over the club will want to try again, especially after the deal broke down due to the issues with the Munster FA over the leasing of Turners Cross. One could argue that there is a ceiling to what the club can achieve without proper financial backing especially with Rovers’ dominance and Dundalk returning to local ownership.
Overall, a season that started terribly, slowly turned into something tangible for the club to build on next season where the promotion has to be the goal for the club to get back to where it belongs at the pinnacle of Irish football. Player retention, finance and a board with expertise and professionalism will be key to that.