The Anatomy of Cork City FC

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After all I really love you

After all that we’ve been through

I know that we fight,

And our gets pushed to the side

Still it ends alright

– The Frank & Walters  

 

“…if we are really to understand football’s past and draw meaningful lessons from it, there is need to go back to the sources, the games themselves…” – Jonathan Wilson, The Anatomy of Manchester United

Now over 30 years in existence, Cork City FC achieved their greatest season in 2017 with league and couple double success. However, the feat fails to do justice to the origins, developments, games, characters, highs and lows that football fans endure with their devotion of their club. City continue to have the highest average attendances of any club in the League of Ireland. Turner’s Cross is considered by many to have the best atmosphere across the country. The Rebel Army now stand as a shining example of fan ownership in football.

Here, Cian Manning charts the journey from Cork City’s inception and introduction to the League of Ireland to their historic double winning campaign traced in six matches that include fixtures in the league, FAI Cup, UEFA Cup and even the Champions League. “Hopefully these six games will go some way to covering the history of the club as well as providing an insight into the often-lesser seen side of League of Ireland football.”

Dundalk 1 – 0 Cork City, Oriel Park, 16th September 1984

Cork City’s entrance to the League of Ireland saw not only the return of a club representative from Ireland’s second city after a two-year absence, but also the start of the longest continuous entity in the soccer annals of Cork.  After being elected to the league in July 1984 (along with Longford Town), Bobby Tambling, former Chelsea and England international, was appointed manager for the club playing at Flower Lodge. Of course, Tambling was familiar with his surroundings after managing Cork Celtic from 1974-1977 and having played an important role in that club’s league title success in 1974.

However, Tambling’s time as City boss was brief, after thirteen games he was replaced by Tony ‘Tucker’ Allen. Such a change was an illustration of the difficulties City endured in their maiden season. Though Cork won ten games, they finished ninth avoiding relegation by two points (four teams with relegated to the First Division in the 1984/85 season). Seven of those wins came in the second half of the season with three-time European cup winner Liverpool Terry McDermott playing an important role in City’s battle against relegation.

Liverpool Legend

It wasn’t apparent that McDermott’s arrival would be a success or even happen at all back in February 1985. The Irish Press noted on the 13th February that McDermott was to arrive in Cork for ten days to play three matches, with the only possible hurdle being that his wife was pregnant and due to give birth on the 24th of the month. An early delivery would have spelt an end to the transfer but also further dented the Rebel Army’s fight for survival in the top division. City manager Allen acknowledged McDermott’s footballing virtues but also commented that “having Terry around for our training sessions would help immensely” with, in his view, at least eight points needed from the clubs nine remaining league fixtures.

The Cork football public would not have to wait long to see the qualities of the six-time English First Division winner on display at Flower Lodge. McDermott’s winning goal against Longford Town was deemed to be the highlight of the match between the sides. The goal itself was a header from a Liam Keane cross on the 78th minute which garnered two important points for the Leesiders. The Irish Independent described the former England international’s goal as recalling “memories of his great days with Liverpool with a well-timed run and header”. Though Cork City were more than deserving of their victory on that occasion, the course of the remainder of the season was not always to run as smoothly.

In a subsequent display against Limerick, McDermott showcased “many of the touches that made him one of the games outstanding performers in his Liverpool days”; however, it was not enough as City lost 3-1. His final game would come at the end of the month against Drogheda United at Flower Lodge before departing both Cork and the League of Ireland. In total McDermott played eight games for City scoring three goals in the process. It was initially reported that the former Newcastle United and Liverpool stalwart had taken up a “lucrative offer” from an unspecified Swedish First Division club. Additionally, Allen recognised that McDermott had to weigh up the offers in front of him as City were keen to extend his time in Ireland but would not stand in the way of the player’s future decisions.

Unfortunately, McDermott was not the only loss from the Rebels squad at the start of March with striker Trevor Parr interested in joining Peterborough United (a connection that has continued with the club to the present day in Dan Murray and John O’Flynn). Charlie Stuart, a reporter with the Irish Press concluded that:

“Undeterred by these setbacks, Cork intend to go ahead with their plans for a full-time professional set-up next season. While they have not given up hope of holding on to both McDermott and Parr, new signings will be made to keep the club in the forefront of League of Ireland soccer.”

McDermott eventually joined APOEL Nicosia winning a league championship before retiring from professional football in 1987.

1984

Cork’s first game in the League of Ireland against Dundalk at Oriel Park on 16 September 1984 did not go ahead without its hitches. The City team bus was held up by a CIE breakdown and the game was delayed by thirty minutes. Dundalk were the overwhelming favourites due in large part to their experience. The only goal of the game scored by Dundalk’s Tom McNulty came four minutes into the second half in what was a dull affair. The Lilywhites dominated the tie though City’s defensive approach was exemplified with an excellent performance from Donnie Madden. City would exact revenge in the return fixture at Flower Lodge with a 1-0 victory. Nevertheless, Louth would prove to be an unhappy hunting ground for Cork City in their first campaign after being knocked out by Drogheda United in the second round of the FAI Cup.

From their first meeting in September 1984 both Cork and Dundalk would be inextricably linked in the other’s successes and failures. Dundalk achieved a league title victory with a 1-1 draw at Turners Cross in 1991, and of course 2016’s memorable showdown at Oriel Park saw the Lilywhites win their tenth league title with a 2-0 victory over a resurgent Rebel Army.

History doesn’t always repeat itself but often has a similar rhythm. From 2014 to 2017 the teams locked horns again, sharing four league titles and three FAI Cups in the process.

The journey began in Oriel Park in 1984. The foundations were laid and though personnel, team colours and owners would change, City would go on to become the longest existing representative for Cork in the League of Ireland.

Where They Sported and Played

Cork City were first based at Flower Lodge before moving to Turners Cross where they have played ever since (bar their UEFA Cup tie against Bayern Munich in 1991, which was played at Musgrave Park). Their first ground was sold by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in 1986 and subsequently became Pairc Ui Rinn, the second home of Cork GAA with its capacity of around 16,400. The Cross was developed from grassy banks to being one of only two all-seated and all-covered grounds in Ireland (other than the redeveloped Lansdowne Road now named the Aviva Stadium) with a capacity of over 7,000.

” The quest for an explicatory narrative does more than that: it also destroys nuance. No game follows a simple path. It is almost never a case of one team being better and so winning. There are always ebbs and flows, moments when the match threatens to tip one way and then goes the other. Football is not always fair. Myths build up around games, individual moments are hailed as decisive” – Jonathan Wilson, The Anatomy of Manchester United

Cork City 1 – 1 Bayern Munich, Musgrave Park, 18th September 1991

Musgrave Park has seen its fair share of drama, victories and even shocks, the majority of which have been with the oval ball and the mighty Munster, such as their victories over Australia in 1967 and 1992 or their draw against the All-Blacks in 1973. However, less acknowledged by those outside of Cork is the game which took place on that hallowed turf in 1991, when Cork City were drawn against F.C. Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup. The Germans’ coach Jupp Heynkes (later to lead Bayern to the treble in 2013 of Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Champions League) stated that: ‘Cork is the ideal start for the first round’, having played there previously in 1975 for Borussia Monchengladbach who went on the win competition that year.

However, Heynkes was in a less relaxed mood after a poor start to the league by his side. Furthermore, one of Bayern’s first ties in European competition was against Shamrock Rovers in 1966 in the European Cup Winners Cup, yet a side which boasted the talents of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller made hard work of the fixture wining 4-3 on aggregate with a late Muller winner in the second leg. In fact, Rovers were on the way through to the next round on the away goals rule before ‘Der Bomber’s’ intervention. Nearly twenty-five years later the then three-time European champions would find it hard to vanquish another side from the League of Ireland.

Dave Barry gave City a 1-0 lead in front of 4,000 spectators after twenty-six minutes. Some papers noted that the low attendance was in part due to admission prices, but Barry’s performance received much praise in the reports on the game. The Irish Press claimed that not only did he score a fantastic goal, ‘he also ran himself to a standstill, covering every blade of grass on the pitch in helping out his defence and then joining up in attack’. Obviously, the side from Munich had never come up against the prowess of Barry, soccer star and Gaelic footballer for Cork. In fact, his winning of two All-Ireland titles with his native county is undoubtedly testament to his ability to perform on the big stage. Nonetheless, this was not enough to repel the talents of the German giants. Bayern equalised three minutes before half-time through Stefan Effenberg and hit the woodwork twice in the second half.

There was more Barry magic when his free-kick forced a superb save from the Bayern ‘keeper. The game finished 1-1 with City still firmly in the tie ahead of the return leg at the Olympic Stadium. In the Bavarian capital for Oktoberfest, the Rebel Army certainly didn’t disgrace themselves: losing 2-0 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate. The 1991/92 season for Bayern was disastrous finishing five points off the relegation zone and sixteen points off league champions VfB Stuttgart in the first Bundesliga season which comprised of teams from former East German soccer clubs after the unification of Germany in 1990.  Meanwhile City finished third in the League of Ireland six points off winners Shelbourne.

Dave Barry would continue to light up City’s European campaigns by scoring against Turkish side Galatasaray in the first round of the 1993/94 UEFA Champions League campaign.

The tie against the German greats had been one of the highlights in the first golden age for the Turner’s Cross club. The draw represented what City and most Irish sides in continental and international tournaments pride themselves on; grit, hard work and honesty of effort, traits that in the 21st century would be needed to maintain the very existence of the club by players and supporters alike.

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Cork City 2 (4) – 1 (4) Cwmbran Town, 1st September 1993

The first round of the 1993/94 Champions League campaign saw Cork City under newly appointed manager Damien Richardson drawn against Welsh league champions Cwmbran Town. The League of Ireland champions were firm favourites to advance to the second qualifying round of Europe’s premier football competition. The winner of the two-legged affair was due to play Turkish heavyweights Galatasaray.

However, the Welsh side who were making their first ever appearance in the Champions League led City 3-0 after just 27 minutes. Not being used to adorning such an illustrious stage, prior to the game Cwmbran had inadvertently provided City with the facilities of the local athletics track to train on but it had already been booked by the athletics club for the same time. A compromise was reached to avoid any trouble with UEFA or further embarrassment. Perhaps such preparation could be blamed for Cork’s start or maybe the fact that the players had been offered tickets to attend a U2 concert in Cardiff had adverted their attention away from the matters at hand. As it turned out, the after-match formalities delayed the players who would have to wait (conveniently) for Bono to strut his stuff in Cork the following Tuesday.

Two goals in a minute from the Gwent club’s striker Francis Ford amplified a poor start for Cork who conceded a goal from a penalty in the 5th minute, a culmination of what the Irish Examiner described as “brutal defensive play’. Second half goals from subs John Caulfield and Anthony Buckley looked to have revived City’s chances in the tie. In fact, things could have been even better for the 500 strong Rebel Army supporters in the last five minutes of the match when “…City’s Paul Hague had a header from Buckley’s corner come back off the crossbar…’ and the rebound saved by the ‘keeper. A Declan Hyde shot was cleared off the line in a game that City were lucky to keep their European dream alive as much as they were unlucky not to win.

Cork City were clearly a superior team regarding fitness as they sought to become only the fourth Irish club to win in the European Cup and the first in fourteen years to do so since Dundalk’s victory over Linfield and Hibernians of Malta. This looked unlikely in the return leg when the Welsh side took the lead after eight minutes, again due to poor defending.

The Rebel Army’s hero on the night was substitute John Glynn. The Galway man’s introduction for Declan Roche was not greeted by much enthusiasm by the home support. However, the City midfielder-cum-striker had a great track record of scoring vital goals, with his winner for Galway United in the 1991 FAI Cup and nine goals in the previous successful league campaign. Two goals in the last fifteen minutes secured the League of Ireland champions’ passage to Istanbul. Moreover, the lucrative financial awards on offer looked to cover the cost of a gym under the stand at Bishopstown.

Though Cork City struggled with the favourites tag in their tie with Cwmbran, they were narrowly beaten (3-1 on aggregate) by Galatasaray. The Turkish team subsequently defeated Manchester United in the next round. City finished the league campaign second in the table but with their points tally eleven points better than that of their title winning season.

Glynn the goalscorer

In 1995, Johny Glynn joined St. Patrick’s Athleticwinning the League of Ireland title in 1996 before losing in the FAI Cup final to Shelbourne. A brief spell with FK Haugesund was followed by a return to Turners Cross in 1998, winning his third and final FAI Cup winners medal. Glynn retired from football in 2000. Since then he has worked as Connacht Rugby Fitness Coach from 1999 to 2001; a member of the St. Pat’s coaching staff from 2002 to 2003 (winning a league title) and the Clare hurling team between 2003 to 2006. Glynn was also a member of the Derry City staff when managed by Pat Fenlon. He then took on the managerial role at Mervue United during their time in the League of Ireland. A remarkable sportsman with a terrific record, surely the fact he is as fondly remembered by the River Corrib as River Lee is testament to this.

Players like Glynn are an example of the merry-go-round that the League of Ireland can be.

“Now you set the good old days up again, and I,

a printer’s devil, pie that dumped stick

inserting how those times were as foul as today’s.

You each take a slug, then laugh this spirit off,

ordering me to keep my moolah for the dance as you call it.

I delay heading down Summerhill to the disco’s strobes,

scraps, shifts and refusals and stay for just one

more with you, forever in the spoiled good old days”

– Greg Delanty, Passing the Evergreen Bar 

Cork City 2 – 0 Derry City, 18th November 2005

Damien Richardson’s return to Cork City would deliver the Rebel Army their second League of Ireland title after a final day showdown with Derry City at Turners Cross. City were a point behind the Candystripes going into the final match, needing a win to claim the title while Stephen Kenny’s charges needed only a draw. George O’Callaghan and Dan Murray had been ever presents in the side while John O’Flynn and Roy O’Donovan provided the fire power up front, even after the departures of Kevin Doyle and Shane Long to Reading early in the campaign. O’Flynn finished the season as City’s top scorer in the league with 11 goals.

Richardson’s charges started frantically having their first attempt on the Foylesiders goal after 30 seconds, a header by John O’Flynn (playing in his first match in a month after passing a late fitness test before the game) from winger Liam Kearney’s cross. O’Flynn would eventual head past David Forde (a future Ireland international) after 18 minutes with Liam Kearney confirming City’s dominance with a second in the 61st minute. On show for Derry City were Paddy McCourt (who would win PFAI Young Player of the Year that season and eventual go on to play for Celtic and represent Northern Ireland internationally) and Mark Farren who had been prolific that season scoring 18 league goals.

Victory and league honours were claimed by Cork City in front of 8000 spectators. It was City’s first title since 1993 and manager Damien Richardson’s first league title in his career. The game was also the last in front of the old Shed at Turners Cross before its redevelopment as an all-seated stand.

The clash had captured the wider public imagination directly seen with the television audience for the match. The peak viewership for the league decider came in at 355,000 viewers eclipsing that of the rugby international between Ireland and Australia which occurred the same weekend, the ‘oval ball’ audience figures averaging 279,000 viewers for its airing.

After the events of Turners Cross, Derry’s only consolation for the 2005 season was their League Cup victory over UCD, their sixth victory in that competition. The Rebel Army marched on to face Drogheda United at Lansdowne Road in the FAI Cup final. Sadly, City were unable to achieve their first league and cup double in front of a crowd of 24,521 the biggest attendance since the 1990 final. Cork City would later atone for this defeat with victory over Longford Town at the RDS in 2007.

Twelve years after the club’s first league title, City had assembled a squad of players that included several who would go on to receive internationals honours. The second golden age was as intense as it was brief but also demonstrated the shift in League of Ireland football. The redevelopment of the Shed and increasing professionalism appeared to usher in an era when City would be regularly competing in European competition. Unfortunately, the international economy, the property boom to bust and a venture capital firm would lead to another more difficult route to go down.

“Circumstances, equally, play their part, whether sporting or to do with the wider world” – Jonathan Wilson, The Anatomy of Manchester United

Shamrock Rovers 3 – 0 Cork City, Tolka Park, 29th August 2008

In 2007, there was a change of club ownership with the Arkaga company taking over from Brian Lennox. The FAI Cup success that year didn’t prevent manager Damien Richardson from departing the club, being replaced by Alan Matthews in January 2008. Again, silverware was attained with victory in the All-Ireland soccer competition, the Setanta Sports Cup, with a win over Glentoran in the final. However, off the field, the financial stability of the club came under threat after several investment difficulties and eventually Arkaga led Cork City to enter examinership in August. The club’s debts stood at €800,00 with cost-cutting needing to take place. City were also deducted ten points in the league. The pairing back in expenditure began with the game against Shamrock Rovers as Neal Horgan details in his book, Death Of A Football Club?:

We’re away to Shamrock Rovers for a league game. On the bus to Dublin, brown envelopes enclosing our 30% wages are handed out. It’s probably a bad move. The lads are dejected enough already, given that last night on the radio we heard we’re being deducted ten points in the league due to examinership. Seeing in physical form the 70% decrease in our wage adds to the misery…

Despite this we start well and dominate for a while before they score against the run of play. Then in the second half Gamble gets sent off and they get a second, then a third. We’re all over the place. Pat Sullivan gets injured at the death and is stretchered off. It’s live on national TV; I’ve never known the team or club to be so exposed.

Examinership was ended in October when Tom Coughlan assumed control, but this did not secure the long-term future. A winding up order was enforced by the courts in 2010 with the club unable to secure a Premier Division licence and no deal on new ownership in place as a result. A new company named Cork City FORAS Co-op set up by fans of the club took over and entered the League of Ireland First Division with Tommy Dunne as manager. The following year, the Rebel Army obtained promotion to the Premier Division on the final day of the season. Dunne remained as manager for almost two more seasons before parting ways before the end of 2013 following a string of poor results, with Stuart Ashton guiding eventually the team to a sixth-place finish.

In 2009, Darren O’Keeffe, noted as ‘Cork City FC’s poet laureate’, performed his own piece ‘1984’ at the Supporters Club Hall of Fame event capturing not only the mood of the time but also the emotion of following City which now seems prophetic:

‘We’ve had our trials and tribulations, dark days mixed with aberrations

It hasn’t all been doomed malaise, like every dog we’ve had our days,

Fans most special, our biggest plus, moulding the future plans Foras

Our club’s survival we must contrive, to safeguard a further twenty-five.’

City’s darkest hour with its very existence in peril gave rise to the opportunity that would allow the club to flourish both on the field. From that game in Tolka Park, all the events which followed from a period in the First Division to promotion to the Premier League allowed the supporter-owned club to forge a movement that would become a template to follow for other league of Ireland sides and indeed clubs around Europe.

“Of course, external events impinge, for at a certain level everything is connected, but it is, as far as possible, a football history” – Jonathan Wilson, The Anatomy of Manchester United

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Cork City 1 – 1 Dundalk, Aviva Stadium, 5th November 2017

In 2014, the club’s joint record goal-scorer John Caulfield was appointed manager. A remarkable first season in charge ultimately saw Cork City fall short losing to title rivals Dundalk in the final game of the season at Oriel Park. The next two seasons would again see Caulfield and the Rebel Army play the role of bridesmaid to Stephen Kenny and Dundalk with the Lilywhites winning the League of Ireland title in 2015 and ’16 while defeating the Leesiders in the FAI Cup final to achieve the double in 2015. Some revenge was exacted with Seanie Maguire scoring the winner in the 2016 final earning Cork their first FAI Cup since 2007.

It would prove to be a momentum shift in the favour of City, going unbeaten in the first 22 games of the 2017 League of Ireland campaign with effectively the title theirs by the mid-season break. The departure of the club and league’s top-scorer Maguire during the summer transfer window led to a rather lacklustre second half of the season when compared with the impressive start. However, Cork City  were crowned league champions on the 17th October with history beckoning having reached the FAI Cup final for a third season in a row, their opponents again were Dundalk.

Nil-all after 90 minutes, Dundalk took the lead four minutes into extra-time with a header from Nicholas Vemmelund. As Anthony Pyne of RTE reported:

“Cork dusted themselves down and came again. Sadlier pinged a 20-yard strike wide. Caulfield barked instructions from the touchline.

On 111 minutes, their prayers were answered.

Sheppard lifted a ball over the top to Campion, only on the pitch 13 minutes as a replacement for Garry Buckley. He judged his run to perfection, and with Dundalk heads turning to the linesman, the Frenchman controlled it on his chest and lashed a low finish past Rogers.

It would mean that penalties were needed to separate the two sides. With Duffy of Dundalk’s spot-kicked saved by McNulty, Kieran Sadlier scored the winning penalty to make Cork City the first club from the Lee to win a league and cup double since Cork Athletic in 1951.”

Alan Bennett who is in his second spell at the club having previously played in the ’05 league title and ’07 FAI Cup winning teams, re-joined City in 2015 and outlined to the42.ie website:

I came home and wanted to help the club progress but the success we have had has just made this even more special. The work John [Caulfield] has done driving everything forward, getting more people to buy into the club and the feeling around the city. I said it after we won the league – he is relentless, the work he does is incredible really…

Two different times, different lifetimes…I actually had some messages from the ’05 lads after Sunday saying “That’s it, 2005 is banished now, people can move on. It’s dead. Your team has taken over.  

In what can be described as Cork City’s third golden age, the success of the class of 2017 has surpassed all previous teams over the last 30 years. To say that all roads have led to this point would be disingenuous and would not reflect the trials and tribulations that have sign-posted the club’s history. If lessons can be learned, perhaps this can be a springboard for sustained success compared to previous decades.

For every supporter, moments and players stand out whether it is the glorious gladiator in his twilight years like Terry McDermott, undoubtedly one of the most famous players internationally to play for City, or those who obtained cult status like Johnny Glynn, equally important in the tale of the club and the tapestry that they’ve woven. They ingrain themselves in the DNA of Cork and more importantly the fans’ psyche. All things change but what stays the same is the tradition of fandom passed down from generation to generation. In 30-years’ will these six selected games still be considered intrinsic in illustrating the history of Cork City? It’s this type of question that leads to debates about the lowest of lows to great moments and players. But isn’t that why we love the sport?

After all I really need you

Don’t know how I’d live without you

Days they go by,

And you’re always there at my side

Girl, I’m glad you’re mine

– The Frank & Walters

 

Images: Tom Beary Visit tombearyphotography.com and follow Tom on Twitter: @tombearyphoto and Instagram: www.instagram.com/oneshotbeary

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