President’s Cup: Cork City v Dundalk, Turner’s Cross, Saturday, 5.30pm
As an early indicator of where the bigger prizes are going to go, the President's Cup has not been the most reliable over the past three years. But a fair bit has changed at Dundalk and Cork City since they faced each other at the Aviva in November, and so their fourth straight encounter in the season's curtain-raiser will be closely watched by both sets of fans.
The most obvious difference between then and now is the departure from Dundalk of Stephen Kenny in the wake of last season's double. And though the new man in the job says that they view this game first and foremost as a friendly, it will provide an early sense of what we can expect from the Oriel Park outfit under Vinny Perth.
“We’ve had an excellent preseason so far and hopefully that will continue with this game,” he says. “But there’s definitely a lot of pride involved when we go to Cork, and I’m sure there is a lot of pride involved for Cork when Dundalk are the team coming to Turner’s Cross.
“That said, I think, like them, we would probably cope with losing if we then went and won our first game of the league season next Friday.”
John Caulfield suggested after the Munster Senior Cup defeat of Cobh Ramblers the other night that the team here will be much closer to the side that starts in Richmond Park, and it will be interesting to see how the City boss is aiming to reshape a side that lost some key players last season.
In all, nine have departed and, while not all of those would have made major contributions, the squad looks likely to be thinner, leaving Caulfield with his work cut out if they are going to be title challengers again.
James Tilley seems to have settled well so far and could prove an important recruit on the attacking side of things, but Karl Sheppard is a doubt for Saturday afternoon's game after missing the Cobh one, and Gary Boylan is still working towards full match fitness after a long injury lay-off.
Dundalk have lost a couple of players too, most recently Karolis Chvedukas, who left on Friday for Waterford, but also the likes of Georgie Poynton, Dylan Connolly and Ronan Murray. Still, it should be a pretty familiar starting 11 and one that could actually be improved by Sean Murray in the short term and, perhaps over a little more time, Daniel Kelly.
Murray’s ability to make an impact – after a spell in which he has drifted slightly – may have a significant bearing on the club’s campaign, and the supporters are bound to be looking for early signs of it if, as seems likely, he makes his debut at some stage over the course of the 90 minutes in Cork.
Energy is possibly his biggest attribute, but clearly he also possesses the technical ability
“We didn’t have him for eight days there, but he did do a week with us before that and so he has a good sense of what we are about,” says Perth.
“We play with a lot of energy, and energy is possibly his biggest attribute, but clearly he also possesses the technical ability to have played the number of games he did for Waterford in the Championship. He is also as quick as anyone at the club.”
This time last year, City showed a lot of character to come from behind and beat their rivals and, though it didn’t ultimately count for too much by November, Caulfield and everyone else in the Cork camp would still, you suspect, take something similar again as a source of encouragement for the months ahead.