His name is etched in stone on Leeside, met with disdain in the capital and nostalgia out west. Yet, before the title charges and cup successes, before the European odyssey from Belgium to Estonia, before the heartbreak & triumph was the boy from the Bronx. It cannot be denied that Cork City FC’s John Caulfield is enjoying his time back at the Rebel Army. With his finger tips on the league title, with the Munster Senior Cup and Presidents Cup all in tow and defending the FAI Cup, Caulfield’s time has been anything but a failure in his four seasons on Leeside.
Stepping into the hot seat in 2014 Caulfield knew that something was missing from his beloved club. Following a champagne supernova with the Celtic Tiger, Caulfield was tasked with returning the buzz on Leeside following troubled period for the club.
Lukewarm investment combined with poor ownership led to rising debts, and in the space of five years Cork City FC went from Champions League to the precipice of liquidation at the high courts, before the club was placed into the ownership of fan-run FORAS. Fighting up through the first division, City returned to the top-flight in 2012, where the club secured Setanta Cup football with a respectable sixth placed finish. 2013 City flopped at mid table, with fans becoming accustomed to mixed performances including beating league champions Sligo Rovers and the eventual winners St. Patricks Athletic, but a succession of at home losses and a barrage of late goals saw a side struggling with identity.
Up stepped UCC’s John Caulfield. A Cork City FC club legend with 455 appearances and a club record goal scorer with 129 goals; Caulfield was enjoying a successful management career in the Munster Senior League with UCC.
Signed from Cork’s Avondale United in 2010, Caulfield had radicalised Avondale to the fringes of Irish football. In his eight years at, “the Dale” Caulfield pushed the side to promotion and beyond, through back-to-back FAI Intermediate Cups from 2005-2007 while reaching the finals of the Munster Senior Cup and claiming two Munster Senior League titles in the process.
UCC was the gauntlet for Caulfield. Struggling at intervarsity level and locally, Cork’s premier institution was floundering in the second first division, and went without Collingwood success from 2005 onward. It was a static time for the club and Caulfield was handed the task of not only re-energising the club, but recapturing the glory days of UCC.
Following a year of tinkering with the team, Caulfield pushed UCC to a league and cup double when he secured promotion to the Munster Senior League while winning the Collingwood Cup for the first time in six years. This year represented a breakthrough season for players like Michael McSweeney and Josh O’Sheam who were pushed into the UCC first team under the leadership of Caulfield.
Caulfield also put UCC into the national window, where he led the side to the third round of the FAI Intermediate Cup in 2012 before improving with a last sixteen appearance the next season.
In Caulfield’s vision UCC were crafted into a side of blood and thunder; built on vision and drive Caulfield’s UCC team was a reflection of a man tried and tested in the Irish game. Failure was never an option as UCC once more regained top flight status and challenged for the top honours at intervarsity levels.
It was this headstrong mentality which soothed Caulfield’s transition from UCC to Cork City FC. The passion and praise of yesterday; with a man who had won City their first league title in 1991 and a FAI Cup in 1997, the vision was clear. Caulfield did it at Avondale, brought UCC back to the brink, now he was in charge of resurrecting the Rebel Army.
From the onset change was visible. A 1-1 draw with reigning champions St. Pats on the opening day of the season, dethroning league leaders Shamrock Rovers and with last gasp equalisers against Sligo Rovers, Caulfield steadied the ship to the top of the table. A 2-1 win over Drogheda United in September 2014 saw Cork City qualify for the UEFA Europa League. The rush of fortune, however, fell short at the final hurdle, as City missed out to the league title on the last day of the season. But that blip of the radar was nothing to a continued project.
Four years on from the zero year of 2013, and the sky is still the limit for John Caulfield. With the prospect of the league title in 2017 and Champions League football next summer, it is not a question of a job well done but a more refined, “what’s next?” for the former UCC gaffer.