Last week Cork City FC welcomed reigning League of Ireland champions Dundalk to Turners Cross for a sold-out encounter at the top of the SSE Airtricity League. It is a fixture which s weighs a lot for both parties; to the Rebel Army hoping build a six point gap from the arch rivals, and a chance for Stephen Kenny and his men to make some much needed ground on the Leesiders.
It is a renewed acquaintance of matured rivalries at the Cross. For the last three years both teams have been embroiled in the struggle dominance; dating back to the title decider at Oriel Park on the final day of the 2014 season. Unlike most rivalries in Irish sports, Cork City and Dundalk have maintained a professional rivalry extending from the side’s league form and into their domestic cup campaigns and European exploits. Dundalk beat Cork City in the 2015 FAI Cup final. Seani Maguire scored 121st minute to avenge the defeat in 2016. Dundalk qualified for the group stage of the UEFA Europa League. Cork City progressed through three rounds of the Europa League qualifying rounds. Dundalk became the first Irish side to win a group game in European competition. Cork City became the first Irish side to qualify and progress in the UEFA Youth League.
Still; rivalries are nothing new to the Irish game. The professional rivalry between the Rebel Army and the Lilywhites is nothing new to the domestic game, but a re-emergence of old scars lingering on from the golden eras of John Caulfield and the Lilywhites.
Back in 1990/91 it was a blessed time for the fans of both clubs. Dundalk where hot on the heels of the league and cup double and retrospective second and third place finishes while the Rebel Army; had just pulled out a shock draw with Bayern Munich at Irish Independent Park. Both sides had emerging successes and long sought the league title. For Dundalk it would have been a perfect on their tenure at the top; a bookend generation of success for the club. For Noel O ‘Mahony’s side it would be a first major trophy for Cork City.
Going into the final game of the season Cork City led Dundalk by two points with the two sides scheduled to meet in the penultimate game of the season at Turners Cross. A cup final style showdown beckoned for both sides with 10,000 people crammed into Turners Cross for a mass.
In a physical encounter for both sides; Cork pressed with Pat Morley, John Caulfield and Dave Barry all testing Dundalk keeper Alan O’Neil early on. However, Dundalk would snatch the lead midway through the second half when Gino Lawless capitalised on a mistake by the City midfield to play Tom McNulty through on goal for the Scotsman who slip the ball passed Phil Harrington in goal. With the game dampened and the fires of defeat burning through; City fought back and almost struck lucky in the dying embers with John Caulfield finding space and heading the ball down only inches wide of the Shed End. Any grand finish was halted with the referee’s final whistle and the Lilywhites ran out victorious.
The depression and cries for revenge where only drummed up once again three years later as Cork City won the League of Ireland Cup against Dundalk. While it may be the second competition to the romance of the FAI Cup or the grit and determination of the league, the cup win gave a much needed momentum to a fading Rebel Army who were in danger of extinction.
In the 2000s successes and stability never matched the long lost rivalries between the two sides. In the champagne supernova of Cork City’s 2005 League triumph and 2007 cup victory; Dundalk where languishing in the First Division.
With successes dwindling; clashes became few and far between. Pat Doolin’s ill-fated tenure at a sinking Cork City was kick-started by a 2-1 win at Oriel Park in 2009, while a 3-0 home win for Cork City plunged Dundalk into the relegation/promotion play offs in 2012.
Fast forward now five years later. Deep into the Kenny/ Caulfield rivalry and no clear victor to be seen. On a head to head both teams Dundalk slightly overstep City with five league wins against Cork’s two, while Cork have beaten Dundalk twice to win the President’s Cup and both sides have equal measures in cup competitions. What is becoming is a rivalry cast in constant escalation of successes for both home and abroad which has given Irish football the blood and vinegar to appeal to the masses. Whatever comes could tell the story of the season, but for now it is yet is another chapter in the long standing rivalry.