Cork City FC soccer manager John Caulfield can’t wait for the start of the new SSE Airtricity League season to commence, as he begins his third season in charge of the Rebel Army. John Bohane catches up with him.
John Caulfield, who holds the joint goalscorers record for Cork City alongside his former colleague Pat Morley, is enthused with how pre-season has gone for his side who have finished in second place in each of the last two seasons. Cork City begins their league campaign with a home game against Bohemians on Friday, March 5.
“Pre-season has gone very well for us. We have been back as a group since the middle of January. The players strictly adhered to a seven-week off-season training plan, on an individual basis, which ensured they came back to us in very good shape,” says John.
“It also meant we could get straight down to soccer drills and team shape, as their fitness was so good. Despite the weather conditions being so bad, the guys have trained very well, twice a day on some occasions. The players cannot wait for the new season to start. Bohs is a nice one to begin with. They are a big team also and it’s always great to start the season with a home game. The buzz coming into the opening game of the season is huge and there should be a big crowd and a great atmosphere there.
“Our results in pre-season have been very pleasing also. We are creating a lot of chances and scoring a lot of goals also which is a good sign for the season ahead. Their work-rate and attitude have been great. Hopefully we can keep the positivity within the club going for the duration of the season.”
John is very happy with the players he has brought into the club, as he attempts to end an 11-year drought for league title success. “We have changed the team this year and brought a lot of new players in. Over the course of the last two years we have been challenging Dundalk, but they were just the better team. This year I felt we had to freshen things up a bit in a number of areas, which will hopefully enable us to compete with them from a stronger footing again. Time will tell, but we deliberately brought in younger players with more energy and more speed. Hopefully our signings will work and they will pay dividends.”
The capturing of Glasgow Celtic central defender and hometown lad Eoghan O’Connell on a four month loan represents a great coup for The Leesiders according to John. “It is great to get a Cork lad back from the UK into our team on a temporary deal. He is a big strong lad, has played a few first team games for Celtic and is looking to get games on a regular basis. It is great to have someone of his stature into the club.”
John is hoping their plethora of recent new signings will help propel Cork City to mount a sustained title challenge against an ultra-consistent Dundalk FC side, who have lost their best player Richie Towell to championship side Brighton. “We have been the best of the rest over the last two seasons. Prior to my arrival we were finishing in the bottom half of the table. In my first season in charge we finished second in the table, which probably took people by surprise. Last year we finished second again and finished as runners-up in the cup also. Dundalk is a very strong side. It will be closer than the last two seasons. I think we have built a better team for the season ahead. Richie Towell will be a big loss to them but they have kept all the rest of their players. They have also brought in Patrick McElhinney, who is a very good player. He won’t score as many goals as Towell but he creates a lot for them. They are the team to beat. Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s will be very strong also.”
John is hopeful the strong Cork City support base can play their part in roaring his side on to glory this season. “Our immediate targets are to make a good start to the season which will ensure our crowds stay strong. We have built up a huge following from all over Cork County. We have got a great response from our support base in West Cork. A number of schoolboys clubs travel up and indeed have played on Turners Cross at the interval. Playing on Friday nights has proved very popular. It is important to start well, as it helps to create momentum. The league is a marathon. It is vital to be start well, hang in there and stay in contention with the top teams. Hopefully we can progress in European action also. The league would be our priority however.”
Cork City experienced European action for the first time in eight seasons last year. They eventually succumbed to Icelandic side KR Reyjavik. John is hopeful of more magical European nights in Turners Cross this season. “Europe is important from a financial perspective also. The players like playing in that environment also. Reyjavik had, I suppose, that bit more experience than us. They had played in Europe for the previous 13 seasons. We were disappointed to go out but they were probably the better side over the two legs. We would be hoping to progress further this season. We have another year’s experience built up which would hopefully stand to us.”
Talented Kealkil lad Connor Ellis was a standout player on the Cork City U19 side who won the league title last season. Indeed the Ireland soccer international struck the winning goal for Cork City. John is very pleased with the progress of the West Cork soccer star. “Connor is a great prospect. He made his debut last season for the first team. We have big plans for him. At the moment he is concentrating on his Leaving Cert. When the exams are finished he will come on board with us and train with us. There are a lot of talented West Cork lads playing soccer. We have another lad playing at left-back for our U17 team Ronan Hurley, who hails from Schull. He is doing well. He has huge potential. The transformation from youths’ soccer to first team level is so big however. If a player can bridge that gap they will have a great chance of making it. The pace and intensity is massive. That is the challenge for the players. We have had a good few lads from West Cork featuring in our youths’ team over the last few years. It is great to see. There are talented lads coming through the West Cork Academy who are getting the chance to play at an elite level. Whether they push on to first team level is another matter. The standard in underage soccer in West Cork, since I have lived in West Cork, has improved for sure, as there are more lads playing underage soccer. The biggest problem is the lack of facilities for a lot of teams, which is hindering their progress and not great for their skill-sets. I have great interest when we have lads up from West Cork. I would be delighted to see more lads from West Cork breaking through while I am the manager.”
John is relishing his tenure as manager of Cork City FC. “As someone who worked in a day job, while combining my soccer career, for over 30 years, to come in now every morning and train the lads once or twice a day is a great feeling. Obviously the pressure, which exists, especially when results are not good, is tough. I always tell the players to embrace this time as a professional soccer player because it is a privileged role. They are working in a great environment, they are among the elite players in the country.”
John’s favourite aspect of the job is the feeling of satisfaction on his journey home to Enniskeane after their latest victory. “I suppose the nicest feeling is when you can reflect on a win on your own, as you drive home back to West Cork. You have worked all win to achieve your goals. It is all about the result. There is a great buzz when we deliver in front of our fans and you can bask in your success as you drive home to West Cork. The drawbacks I suppose are the criticism when things are not going well. Everyone has opinions. I suppose it is part and parcel of our job. It is very easy to be critical from afar but a lot of the most vocal and critical voices are people who have not even been to Turner’s Cross, which I find disheartening sometimes. I feel that if they came and experienced one of our home games they would love the experience and would be back for more.”
John, who has lived in Enniskeane since he moved to Cork, likes to unwind when the chance arises by spending time with his family and shooting the breeze with friends. “Spending quality time with the family is great. I have got great support from all my family and friends. They have to put up with me on occasions also because when you lose I might not be the easiest person to live with either.”
John, who was born in New York, but raised in Roscommon, initially moved to Enniskeane 31 years ago when he got a job with Soundstore in the West Cork village. He loves the natural beauty and charm of the people in West Cork. “I love living here and it has been a great place to raise a family. It is my home now. There is a great sense of community spirit here. The support I have received from the Ballineen and Enniskeane people has been great. Indeed the support I have received from everyone in West Cork has been phenomenal.”