Neale Fenn left Cork City on Thursday night by mutual consent. It follows a difficult season for the Rebel Army who are bottom of the Premier Division on nine points with five games remaining with Fenn only managed to pick up two wins this season.
Fenn took over last season from John Caulfield and managed to steer the club away from relegation but with nearly the entire squad departing during the off season, it was always going to be an uphill struggle for Fenn to make City competitive this season. This was not helped by the difficult financial situation of the club who were hours away from losing their premier division licence for the upcoming season due to an outstanding bill owed to Revenue. They were only saved by Preston North End who paid €500,000 in a deal to get rid of the sell on clauses for Alan Browne and Sean Maguire.
Not the ideal start to the season, then coupled with an opening night defeat at home to newly promoted Shelbourne and a 6-0 defeat at Shamrock Rovers. Straight from the off Fenn and his troops were under severe pressure and looked on the pitch what they looked like on paper – a mix and gather squad lacking in experience and know-how with the exceptions of Gearóid Morrissey, Daire O’Connor. Stalwarts like Mark McNulty and Alan Bennett were now acting in a player/coach capacity at the club.
Another club stalwart has been put at the helm for the remaining five games in the form of Colin Healy, scorer of perhaps the greatest goal scored at Turners Cross with his overhead bicycle kick in front of the Shed in the dying minutes of a league game against St.Pats in 2014. By the time this comes to issue, Healy will have taken charge of his first game against 2 nd placed Bohemians at Dalymount Park with the side two points off relegation rivals Finn Harps and four points off automatic safety with a game in hand on both Harps and Shelbourne.
Not only is the team’s Premier Division status uncertain but so is the club’s ownership; Grovemoor Ltd owned by British billionaire Trevor Hemmings is interested in purchasing the club. FORAS, the supporters trust who currently own the club are set to meet on Wednesday October 28 th with over 600 shareholders eligible to vote and decide on the matter with a simple majority required. The board headed by chairman Declan Carey have expressed its support for the sale of the club at a cost of €1 due to it being fan owned.
Although City have had a mixed history with owners in previous eras, Trevor Hemmings comes with a background in football as he is also the owner of Preston North End while he also has close connections to Cork where he owns a stud farm in Kanturk and Trabolgan, and a successful holiday village in East Cork.
It has been an extremely difficult year for City with volunteer and club legend John Kennedy passing away in September. A man who epitomized everything that was good about not only the club, but the league itself. He will be a huge loss to this city. Weeks later, founding chairman Jim Hennebry also passed away, without him perhaps there would not be a Cork City FC.
For a brief moment it did seem that there would not be a football club this season if it wasn’t for Hemmings stepping in, and perhaps his company is the right pair of hands to guide the club into a new era taking over from a fantastic job done by the supporters trust who rebuilt the club from scratch in 2009 with aplomb. It undoubtedly has been one of the good news stories in Irish football in recent times.
It could be argued however that fan ownership only takes you so far with a reliance on organic investment in the form of prize money, gate receipts and sponsorship. An owner who might show a willingness to put substantial investment into the club could be what football in Cork needs if it wants to relive the glory days of the past decade and compete with champions elect Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk, both of whom are backed by deep pockets of Dermot Desmond and American company Peak6, respectively.
Whatever happens, these next couple of months are arguably the most important in the club’s recent history and will dictate the future of the club in the most uncertain of times. With all the negativity in the world at the moment, October could be a month to unite the people of Cork once again and have a future of football which is vibrant for all from the Shed end to West Cork.