The ball is round, the game lasts ninety minutes, and everything else is just theory – Sepp Herberger
It’s now only a week until Cork City play their first pre-season and first competitive game of the season, all rolled into one, an enthralling Munster Senior Cup tie with Wilton awaits, which is being played in Mayfield at 3pm next Saturday the 13th of January. As this is a competitive game and the MSC is an FAI sanctioned competition, there will be no trialists allowed and any player playing for City will have to be registered by them with the FAI before close of business on Friday.
As we look towards a season which kicks off on the 16th of February, the question starts to be asked, at what point should we start to worry about a lack of numbers in the squad? On the 23rd of December, City tweeted a list of 14 players who are contracted to the club for 2024, since then they have also added Aidan Dowling, a goalkeeper signed from Larne to bring the total number of contracted players to 15. That dosent sound too bad until you investigate it, obviously we have two goalkeepers only one of which can play so we are down now to 13 outfield players, Darragh Crowley is still working his way back from serious injury and won’t be available for several months yet, so now we are at 12. Cathal O Sullivan, Josh Fitzpatrick and Matthew Murray are players of massive potential, but all are young and inexperienced at this level and while there is the potential for all to play a role during the coming season, that reduces us to nine senior pros available for selection.
Of that nine none are currently a centre forward of which we will need to add a minimum of two and probably more depending on the formation we plan to use. During his time at Drogheda, Tim Clancy exclusively played a 4231 the year they won the first division (2020), although he did play 352 in a cup defeat to Derry. Having gone up he again predominantly played 4231 but did alter formations more frequently depending on opponent, playing 352, 532 and 433 at different times and against different opponents. Having moved to St Pats in 2022, it appears he became far more flexible in his tactical set up and formations, he did for example use four different formations in four different league games against Shamrock Rovers, 541 (Lost) 4231 (Won) 442 (Drew) and 352 (Drew). The point of this digression is simply that he looks to be someone who will tailor his formation to what he has available, but one must suspect that in the first division at least, 4231 will be his go to formation.
*Formation data taken from transfermarket.com
With that in mind and a week of pre-season already down at this point, its fair to argue that we lack genuine depth in the squad. No doubt players will be added in the coming weeks, some on loan and some permanently. The Irish Football Blog on Twitter have stated that we have an interest in taking Kieran Offord (Striker) on loan from St. Mirren and this is true, but he may have other options both in the lower leagues in Scotland and with an unnamed LOI first division club based in Donegal. We are also working to bring in another central midfielder who has the potential be a high-quality player in this division provided he can find his way back from serious injury (sorry I know that’s prickish but hopefully I can drop a name on Monday).
If Offord were to join, then we would still need at least one more back to goal playing number nine. We don’t have a right back currently so one is also a need. We need to add two centre backs at a minimum, I’m a fan of Sam Bailey and what happened that night in Dalymount has long been forgotten by the fan base, but you’re not throwing a young kid in CB in the LOI first division, but he is someone who can come in and play a situational role through out the season. Colin Henderson is another who could have a future but unfortunately, he too is on the same recovery road as Darragh Crowley and is months away from being any kind of option. Whether Cian Coleman is one of those centre backs remains to be seen, undoubtedly the club want him back and the reasons why this hasn’t happened yet are unclear, but a time does come when deadlines must be set, for both the clubs and the player’s benefit. Personally, I would be saying, here is the final offer, we need it back and signed in 48 hours or we are moving on and then everyone has absolute clarity in where they stand.
We were slow in our pre-season recruitment this time last year and that was put down to the change in ownership, I’m wondering what the slowness of this year’s recruitment will be put down to? There is an element of quality over quantity, and everyone is ok with that, but you still need to fill out a squad with players capable of winning the league. The one thing that is clear is that the players we have brought in, added to a few home-grown products, are guys who clearly have the potential to grow into Premier Division players. Jack Doherty has been the best player in the first division for two seasons now and deserves a shot at higher level football, Evan McLaughlin has the profile of a young guy who can prosper into a very good player, highly thought of at Derry but decided he needed to get out and play regularly, so he took a step down with a view to stepping back up again.
Greg Bolger if he had only one leg, is someone you would take back into the Premier Division with you next season just to have him around the dressing room. Scotty was right in calling for him during last summers window, its hard to imagine we would have been relegated if there was someone with his mindset setting the standards in that dressing room. Alas, its too late to save us from ourselves last season, but hopefully he can lead us back up this season. John O Donovan will benefit from a full season starting in this division and is another who could easily take the required step forward then next season. Charlie Lyons is also one who has the potential although he did have a spell at Galway before returning to Cobh but again that experience should stand to him in the coming months.
Darragh Crowley, we already know can make the step up, but his injury must be considered in any assessment of his coming season, it may well be this time next year before he feels fully ready to go again but he will of course play vital minutes for us in the second half of the season. Fitzpatrick, O Sullivan, and Murray all have huge potential but both Murray and O Sullivan are young and have to be nurtured, Josh Fitzpatrick looks like the one who is most ready for regular football but again all three do have the potential to take another step forward next season. Dijksteel is one I’m unsure about to be honest. For me, his time here so far can be summed up in, a sending off against Drogheda and a brilliant goal in the cup against Wexford, with a whole lot of nothing in between. I know the goal against Wexford fills people with hope that he can perform in this division, but I do feel like there are legitimate questions to be answered about the level and consistency of performance he will attain across a 36-game season.
There are pieces in place but now we must add the security that a squad brings. I always assume that any Tim Clancy side is going to bring at least one player in on loan from Bolton as he does seem to have a solid relationship with them. A seasoned LOI CB if not two, a right back, two centre mids and two centre forwards would go along way to convincing people that Tim Clancy and this football club are about to deliver on their stated goal of winning the league.