Promotion/Relegation Playoff Preview: Cork City -v- Waterford
- Patrick O'Connor
- Thu, Nov 09 2023
Cork City have only been out of the Premier Division for two seasons in their 39-year history, in 2011 and 2022, so they will be desperate to avoid a third spell back in the First Division when they take on Waterford in the Promotion / Relegation play off final in Tallaght Stadium on Friday night (kick-off 7.45pm).
Their performances in their first season back in the Premier Division having won promotion from the lower tier in 2022 have been poor and they have been flirting with the relegation spots since the season started back in February.
With a win ratio of only 22 % over the 36- game season, they were always likely candidates to be in this position at the end of the season and despite a valiant effort to catch Sligo Rovers or Drogheda United who were their closest rivals, they were unable to do so and ended up six points and ten points respectively behind these sides.
They had three managers during the course of the season, Colin Healy, Liam Buckley (Sporting Director, acting manager) and now interim boss Richie Holland.
None of the three were able to get any consistent run of form from the squad which must have come as a disappointment to new owner Dermot Usher who took over from the fan owned FORAS in December 2022.
City come into this crucial game on the back of a 4-0 defeat by Bohemians last Friday night but as they had nothing at stake and rested some of their key players in that game, they won’t have read much into either the performance or the result in Dalymount Park.
Holland was in a positive frame of mind when he spoke to The Irish Sun this week when he said, “Waterford are a very good side and they’ve got some very good players in their squad.
“Even, you look at the game the other day against Cobh, and they’re bringing on boys who have played in the Premier Division so that shows you the strength in their squad.
“They’re more than capable of going and winning the game on Friday night. It is up to us really in terms of how we perform to stop that. I wouldn’t read too much into that cup game.”
In relation to the result of the game possibly impacting his own position as manager, he added: “I hope not. I hope that people can see the work that’s been done here. Obviously, I have come in at a late stage as well.
“It’s probably the most difficult job that I could have imagined to have at this stage of my career, picking spirits up.
“But you look at the performances on the pitch and the lads are reacting well to what we are doing here.
“So, look, I get out of bed every morning, I jump out of bed and I love coming in here. I’m not going to deny it, it’s been high pressure and highly stressful at times as well.
“But hopefully it will be all worth it on Friday night.”
Waterford were relegated from the Premier Division back in 2021 and have spent two seasons there, having failed to overcome UCD in the Promotion/ Relegation play off last season.
They will not want to spend a third consecutive season in the lower tier and will be anxious to go one better than last year and overcome Munster rivals Cork City on Friday night.
They were never going to catch runaway leaders Galway United in the First Division this season (Galway United were a whopping 25 points ahead of Waterford at the end of the campaign), but equally they always seemed assured of second place in the table and eventually had ten points to spare over third placed Cobh Ramblers.
It was fitting that these two teams made it through the Promotion/ Relegation playoff semi-finals, at the expense of Athlone Town and Wexford, and the one-legged play off final last weekend produced lots of drama before Keith Long’s side emerged victorious.
Goal scoring machine Ronan Coughlan opened the scoring for Waterford in the 46th minute bur Ramblers got a deserved equaliser in the 88th minute through a spectacular Matthew McDevitt overhead kick that sent the tie into extra time.
It was Chicago born Giles Phillips who scored the decisive third goal for Waterford in the 100th minute, a header from a Shane Griffin corner, the tie ending in a 2-1 win for the Blues.
Manager Keith Long spoke to the Irish Examiner this week and said that City will be favourites going into the match. He said: “We'll give it a go against Cork. We'll be massive underdogs.
“They've beaten us 3-0 here in the Cup. They're the Premier Division side so a lot of the pressure will be on them.
“We've got to perform and we've got to be better than we were the last time we played them here.
“They play against high-level opposition. I can't underline it enough the difference between Premier Division and First Division in the standards.
“There is a quantum difference between where Cork play and the level of the opposition that they play every week and what we face with respect to the First Division.
“We know the challenge that we face and we know we have to really perform to our maximum if you've got any chance to get to where we want to be.
“Of course, we have to worry about Cork. Of course, they play at a Premier Division level and a high level every week. Our aspirations are to get to that and that's where we want to be.
“They'll fight, it's going to be one of those games, it's a Munster derby, and we'll be giving it everything that we've got to try and progress.”
Referee: Damian MacGraith
The only match of any relevance between these two sides in recent times was the FAI Cup clash back in August in Turners Cross.
City won the game comprehensively having got off to the best possible start with a Ruairi Keating goal in the 2nd minute of the match. Further goals from Josh Honahan (17) and Cian Bargary (88), sealed a 3-0 for the home side.
Two of the leading strikers in the country come face to face on Friday night with both seeking to end their seasons on a personal high with another goal to add to their already impressive tallies.
Mayo born Ruairi Keating (Cork City) is joint fourth in the Premier Division scorer’s table with Chris Forrester on 13 goals, just two behind Jonathon Afolabi who has 15 goals to his credit.
Limerick native Ronan Coughlan (Waterford) has a whopping 36 goals to his name in the First Division this season, well ahead of his nearest rival David Hurley who has 21 goals.
Cork City 23/20; Draw 23/10; Waterford 2/1
Cork City 2-1 Waterford