It’s a rivalry that both on and off the pitch that has intensified over the past number of years and with no signs of it remotely extinguishing, tonight’s match between Cork City and Dundalk is just another chapter in a dramatic novel. A novel that spans over five action-packed years that has seen the pendulum swing back and forth to prove which club is the footballing supremacy in the SSE Airtricity League. For those making the 340km journey, departing the shadows of the Cooley mountains down south to a city split by the famous River Lee, you can’t help but feel this is more than just a match. It’s a cultural and parochial identity that is engrained in the generations that have passed through the famous old turnstiles of Oriel Park and Turner’s Cross. From Dave Barry to Jimmy Hasty, the famous players of yesteryear are still on the tips of the tongues of supporters who both claim were the superior athletes, players and of course teams.
It’s a team from the north east, whose history is aligned with success and glory of players who dream to take the famous ‘trip over the Hill Street Bridge’ a right of passage to showcase what silverware they have earned to an adoring fan base. A club whose overcasting flood lights shine brightly over a town like a great beacon of hope and a symbol of the true ‘home of football’. With players such as John Murphy, Joey Donnelly, Joe Ralph, Barry Kehoe and the cult heroes like Robbie Dunne that graced the Oriel Park pitch donning the famous black and white jersey. They were encouraged to be bold, brave and play with freedom and expression, much like the spirit of his supporters and the club much like the town itself that has suffered many set backs but lived on a resilient power of brushing itself down with the mantra of ‘just keep moving forward’. An ideology that has not been lost on Stephen Kenny.
It’s a team from the south, owned by the very people who support it week in, week out with despite its shorter history compared to its counterpart has graced the SSE Airtricity League with a passionate and hard-working side that has thrilled fans in the ground, that is overshadowed by the steeple of the Church of Christ the King. Pat Morley, Dave Barry, Liam Miller, Patsy Freyne and Colin Healy have worn the crest with pride and passion, and as a band of players who play with a rebel spirit by it’s people like a badge of honour. The people’s republic of Cork ensure they are proud to come from a county that has produced great sportsmen and women alike. John Caulfield may be a New York-born and Roscommon reared footballer, but his heart and soul is that of a rebel.
In GAA circles, they speak of the epic battles that were contested between Kerry and Dublin in the 1980’s and how the games between the sides grew much more than just a local interest, and the same could be said here. Irish fans eagerly await these games as the two modern era giants of the game go head-to-head to see who will come out on top. It’s been 1,246 days since a Richie Towell brace gave Dundalk it’s last victory in Turners Cross that has since been a place of hardship and hard knocks for the men of ‘the town’. Dundalk know a victory tonight will tip the balance in their favour as to where the SSE Airtricity League title’s final destination will be at the end of the year. Despite a tough run of form coming into this game you can be rest assured John Caulfield will use every inch of his experience in order to keep Cork’s title defense alive. Tonight is not just about a game of football, it’s two footballing ideologies that are contrasting in tactics and style of play. It’s about what team will strike first in a game that is tense from the first blow of the referee’s whistle.
Every kick, pass, foul and throw in will be contested by two sets of passionate fans who are used to ever-growing success. It paves the way for an epic contest in a week that will prove to be vital for both sets of clubs. Come 9:05pm, we could have a fair idea as to where some silverware will be resting for the long off-season months, or we could have another few weeks of tension and fans biting the nubs of their already chewed fingernails. Either way, this battle is good for the league and it’s good for the clubs.
The players know all too well that they want their names in the headlines to come Saturday morning, will it be Patrick Hoban who has taken out his ill-fated English experience on many an unsuspecting defender in the league this season or will it be Karl Sheppard? The pantomime villain of the piece who almost became a lily-white in the close season last year. Will Damien Delaney redeem himself and keep Cork City in the title race or will the colossus of Oriel, Brian Gartland, notch another important goal to his already impressive tally. Whatever happens tonight, like many others, I will be on the edge of the seat from minute one to minute ninety.