What did last November’s FAI Cup triumph mean to the fans and players of Cork City? Perhaps Mark McNulty put it best in the SoHo bar. Yes, he may have dropped more f-bombs than a Tupac record, but he clearly illustrated how important the victory was to the Leesiders. Frankly, their players, management and fans were too damn good not to have won silverware for the work they put in over the last three seasons. It was undoubtedly a frustrating period all at Turners Cross, watching their excellent side pipped to three consecutive league titles and an FAI Cup in 2015 to the same team. Last season, they also had a fine European run which became overshadowed by Dundalk’s history making campaign.
It is understandable that November’s cup win perhaps tasted a little sweeter given that Dundalk were the team conquered. A defeat to your greatest rivals can seriously damage confidence, and the manner of the defeat was perhaps a factor in the Lilywhite’s performances in their final two European games, in which they seemed to lack an edge they had in their opening fixtures. Cork had taken them 120 minutes into the tense final before breaking through their shattered defence. Dundalk players and fans would certainly claim fatigue to be the main reason for the gut wrenching loss. After all, it was their 21st match in 2 months. They were boarding a plane on the other side of the continent just 48 hours earlier. On the other hand, if Cork had have played the entire match as they did for much of the second half, they could have won more comfortably. Cork were consistently destroying teams in the league before putting in a cagey performance at the title decider in Oriel Park, thus falling to a 2-1 defeat and surrendering another title. The gap between the sides remains intriguingly unclear.
A great player can often prove to be the difference between evenly matched sides. Sean Maguire (once with Dundalk) won the Cup for Cork in the dying seconds. Daryl Horgan (once with Cork) won the title showdown with an impressive brace. Cork has held on to their prized asset, while Dundalk has lost theirs. Ronan Finn and Andy Boyle have also flown the nest. The Louth outfit have held onto Stephen Kenny however, who has expressed his wish that Dundalk’s European windfall should be invested in much needed repairs to Oriel Park. This could mean a bright future for the Lilywhites but it would also indicate that money will not be thrown at players to ensure immediate success. Bray’s decision to put a 100 grand price tag on Dylan Connolly shows that the league’s other clubs are aware of Dundalk’s blossoming bank account and they may perhaps become victims of their own success. Cork City meanwhile has finally tasted success and if McNulty’s rant is anything to go by, that taste is not likely to wane anytime soon. Dundalk fans continue to hope that King Kenny has some tricks up his sleeve as we mourn the loss of three of our best players. Other sides have strengthened but a sizeable gap has grown over the last three years and the heavyweight duo could be up for another fascinating duel in the season to come.