It's been eventful to say the least at the Cross this season and Conor Philpott has been there through it all, here he dissects the City season so far.
Note: Last night's game against Drogheda United was only included in this piece for its attendance and for position in the league table : ( i.e. Cork City are now 6 points off the relegation playoff spot, in 6th)
On their return to the League of Ireland Premier Division in 2012, Cork City, had a solid campaign, they finished 6th, there were certainly some issues for the team, most of which have carried on towards the 2013 campaign or have been exacerbated by the fact that they have yet to be dealt with. Before the beginning of last year's campaign, star striker Graham Cummins, left for pastures new as he signed a deal with Preston North End. The problem however, would be replacing Cummins' goal tally (24 in the first division), the next highest City goal scorer , Davin O'Neill managed twelve, with the likes of Vinny Sullivan in single digits.
The problem with Cummins departure, was not only the man himself moving, it was the fact that it happened at the tail end of the British transfer window (the final day in fact), which meant that getting a replacement in from abroad was not an option, and giving that most of the top Irish players who had been released, had already been signed, there were few if any worthwhile options available to Tommy Dunne. He decided to stick with the Vinny Sullivan and Davin O'Neill partnership, which enjoyed some success at times in 2011 when the two got a game together. By the end of the 2012 season, this striking partnership had accounted for 21 of Cork City's 38 league goals, with the likes of Daryl Horgan and Tadhg Purcell (many City fans would have been delighted to see him return after his deal with Northampton finished, but unfortunately it wasn't to be) chipping in occasionally, City did seem to lack goals from central midfield, although this situation has changed somewhat this season.
Coming into this season, both Sullivan and O'Neill were out of contract, and the team opted not to renew either striker's deal in a somewhat surprising move. While the current League of Ireland necessitates strict budgets, and smart financial deals, at what cost does that come to the final product, i.e. the team you put out on the pitch? From talking to fellow fans, I think most would have made peace with letting one of these players go. I think Davin O'Neill would have been the man fans would have been happier to see go, while he did manage nine league goals, he was an incredibly frustrating player, missing several good chances and often losing possession of the ball in several promising positions. The decision to let both go, was somewhat bewildering, Sullivan more so, who has always proven to be a decent goalscorer at this level. Their replacements came in the form of new signings Daryl Kavanagh, Denis Behan and Danny Furlong, the man who topped the first division scoring charts last year with Wexford Youths (it has been a tough season for Danny off the field but he has shown glimpses of promise but given some issues he has had I think it's reasonable not to expect a lot from him. Out of respect for Danny I won't delve into it further.). By the same point last season, after 16 games, Cork City had managed to score 20 goals (a 6-0 drubbing of Monaghan has not been included as their results were annulled when they withdrew from the league.) and concede 19, at the same point this season, we've scored 16 and conceded 23, there are quite a number of issues surrounding our defence.
A problem in defence, has been a lack of consistency, according to Cork City's website and their teamsheets, City have only once fielded the same defence in back to back weeks, and that hasn't happened since the second game of the season! City have dealt with some injuries, in the back four, with Kevin Murray's availability in recent times being a week to week issue, while namesake Dan has struggled with the odd niggling injury. Dan Murray is also on amateur terms with the club, now working in a pharmaceutical company on the edge of the city, this creates its on problems however, as he has been available for few away games. He is a key part of our defence during our home games, as he starts the majority for which he is fit, but how are his teammates supposed to develop an understanding with him when he is not there on a weekly basis? Dan Murray has been here from some of the clubs best days like the league win in 2005 and 2007 where we won the FAI Cup, but I don't think he is a man who can start with the team, he is still playing at a reasonably high level but his absence on an almost fortnightly basis means to me that he shouldn't be starting with the team.
On the goal scoring front, it's been quite a mixed bag, as the team only average a goal a game. Our three striker signings haven't set the world alight, Kavanagh has never been a 15 goal a season type of player, I would liken him somewhat to former Cork City, Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers player, Neale Fenn, he brings others into the play and creates opportunities and chances for others. Neale Fenn was a top player, but would he have had the same impact ha he not been playing with the caliber of players like Kevin Doyle, John O'Flynn, Jason Byrne, Roy O'Donovan or Glen Crowe? I have my doubts. City's top scorer this season is Shane Duggan a central midfielder, whose 5 league goals have played a part in helping the team stay somewhat close to midtable. Next up is Daryl Horgan on two, and after that it gets somewhat ugly, of Cork's four first team strikers (Behan, Kavanagh, Furlong and young gun Danny Morrissey), their top scorer, the much maligned Denis Behan, has two league goals, between all of them, a total 5 league goals have been tallied, that is pretty appalling stuff and highlights again why one of last season's duo needed to be kept.
While what I'm talking about is largely negative, there are certain aspects that are positive, Mark McNulty has grown over the last few years and is now quite a reliable keeper, and in several games has saved City both points and from more embarrassing score lines. We have seen the emergence of one or two younger players, Danny Morrissey has only registered one league goal this year, he has certainly shown a good deal of promise and personally I feel that with more game time and regular start he could be a very solid player for the team and perhaps in a few years join the long list of Cork City's exports abroad. The Underage section is thriving in the club, the U-19 team, for the second year running the club won a "double double" all 4 competitions they entered in were won. Several of their underage players have received Ireland youth team call-ups in the process, and over the next few years it does seem like there will be some talent coming through the team.
As for the senior team, they have an area in the team that is a real strength to them, in central midfield they have some quality players in Gearóid Morrissey, Colin Healy and Shane Duggan. The problem is that Dunne seems at times reluctant to play 2 in midfield reverting to a 4-5-1 with Kavanagh up top on his own. This experiment carried over form last year and I think it's fair to say that it didn't work last year either, yet he has persisted with it. Other times we have seen Morrissey on the wing with limited success, I think that one player needs to be dropped and at the moment I'm leaning more towards Gearóid, while a player with great talent, he is prone to some poor decisions and at the moment he appears low on confidence. He will get a chance to work his way back into the team for sure, and with not many options available on the right side of midfield, he might find himself out there again (Ian Turner is probably the only real option, unless Daryl Horgan plays there, which I wouldn't be against as his left foot isn't particularly outstanding and he cuts in far too much and becomes a bit predictable). The formation has been a problem and we always seem to lack fluidity when playing with it. No one seems sure of their role in the team, and our striker is often isolated with little help, it's something that needs to change, a two man central midfield partnership will be key going forward.
Tommy Dunne's Cork City team have had some several key moments happen to them in the last few minutes of games, while there have been some stellar moments in that regard (Graham Cummins' last minute winner against Shelbourne in Tolka Park to send Cork City to the First Division title is a memory that will last forever for those that were there, and Shane Duggan's screamer against UCD this season was also something of a high point in what can only be described as a dreadful season) but unfortunately, a lot of the late drama, certainly in recent times has caused heart break for City fans. This season, Cork City have dropped 8 points from winning positions, in the last 5 minutes of games, once or twice you can understand, it is something that happens in football, (Cork City have picked up 6 points I believe in the last few minutes this year), but this has become a pattern under the Dubliner, I believe City ended up dropping 18 points (I may have my maths wrong here but it was at least 18, may have ended up in excess of 20) from winning positions last year, even with around half of those games ending up as wins, they are in a far better position, and wouldn't have been far away from a European spot. While I appreciate all that Dunne has done for the club I wonder is it time to move on, he has done a lot of questionable things in recent times, his failure to get the team to hold onto a lead is quite ridiculous. The team have sat back, inviting pressure onto them for several minutes, and the inevitable late strike often comes, it's not unlike what we see under Trappatoni (a quick note to say I'm not a fan and haven't been since before the European Championship, I'm a long standing member of the Wes Hoolahan fan club, Trappatoni isn't exactly eager to join).
I wonder how committed the team is to Dunne and his methods as often times the team come across as quite lethargic and disinterested, I'm really not sure if he is the man to turn the situation around, however he has 18 months left on his contract, a payoff is something the club would struggle to afford, most League of Ireland clubs probably would, it is going to be interesting to watch the rest of the season unfold, it's hard to see them getting relegated, but at the moment there are only 6 points off the relegation playoff spot, it is certainly a possibility if things don't change drastically and quickly. There have been quiet murmurings about Tommy's future and while at the present moment, I wouldn't say that his departure is imminent, a few more poor results and you never know. The fans are showing their lack of faith and interest anyway, Their first home game against Bohemians attracted 2,760, I'm not going to include last Sunday's game against Shamrock Rovers in this example, Sunday afternoon kickoffs tend to attract less people anyway and given the beautiful weather we had last week (yes I'm afraid that will be all the sunshine we get!) the crowd was obviously lower then the usual Friday kickoff times. The previous home game on a Friday night, the crowd had dropped to 2,118. I will also mention that last night's game against Drogheda, the team's first win in over a month attracted a crowd of 1,478. - Conor Philpott