2023 Season Review: Cork City
Team: Cork City
Head Coach: Colin Healy (17/02 – 03/05), Liam Buckley, Richie Holland & Liam Kearney as interim (05/05 – 28/09), Richie Holland (29/09 – 10/11)
Top Scorer: Ruairi Keating. (13 goals in the league and 15 overall
Stadium: Turners Cross.
Highest Attendance: 6487 (Bohemians 17/02)
Lowest Attendance: 1868 (Derry City 27/10)
Star Player: Ruairi Keating
It had to be really. Not alone was he the top goal scorer for Cork City, he also finished joint third overall. This was in a side that struggled throughout the season to create chances of note and had a poor spread of goals in the rest of the side.
The nearest to him was Joe O’ Brien-Withmarsh and Tunde Owolabi with four. He often ploughed a lone furlough up front as he desperately tried to take advantage of whatever scraps came his way.
The question was poised as to whether he could make the step up to the Premier Division after an impressive season last year in the First Division.
He was a handful for defences due to his hard work and sharp movement. Generally playing on the back of the last defender, he always kept backlines occupied.
In a challenging year, Keating demonstrated admirable dedication and work-rate.
A hat-trick against Sligo in one of his first games back after that loss in a heartwarming moment for player and fans alike.
After reported interests from elsewhere, it was no surprise that he took up the offer to join St Pat's for next season.
Best Young Player: Joe O’ Brien-Withmarsh
There was a number of young players who made their way into the squad this season. A more positive view would be that it was faith shown in them by both Healy and Holland in their spells in charge.
A more cynical view would be it was perhaps indicative of a squad which was left short by the effects of injuries and lack of signings. Nevertheless, some did enough moments in the season to prove their worth to the side.
John O’Donovan at full back was a brave tackler and positive going forward, Darragh Crowley was playing well until a season ending injury as was Ethon Varian who suffered the same fate. However the player I am selecting is Joe O’Brien-Withmarsh.
The 18-year-old academy graduate stepped into a side struggling for form and results and was still able to stamp his own personality on the side.
Equally adept at playing in the middle of the park, or out wide, he was often one of the few willing to get forward from midfield to support the front players.
He demonstrated this positive nature by chipping in with four goals and a number of assists.
Despite the disappointment he will have experienced this year, the future is bright for him. He will be hoping to impress the incoming manager and get off the ground running next year.
Best New Signing: Tunde Owolabi
It was a mixed bag in terms of signings. Ethan Varian, Albin Wimbo and Tobi Oluwayemi all suffered serious injuries early on which ended their participation for the season.
Matt Healy’s loan spell from Ipswich came to an end before he elected to take up the opportunity to play in Belgium. Others arrived during the season but were unable to really impress too much.
Andreii Kravchuk and Ben Worman both did well as the season approached the climax, but I am selecting Tunde Owolabi after he signed from St. Pats back in pre-season.
Often employed as a wider forward or support striker, he displayed a strong burst of pace, good energy, and a willingness to get into the box.
By dragging defenders out wide, he also created space for others to try and exploit. He scored four times in the league, along with a FAI Cup strike away to Treaty in the first round.
What we expected they would do: 8th.
They were tipped to struggle in their first season back in the Premier Division but expected to stay up regardless.
What they actually did: 9th.
It was worse than that. The presence of UCD was perhaps an anomaly as their demise helped disguise how poor City were.
Protracted negotiations over the ownership of the club, left them weeks behind other clubs when it came to signing new players to bolster the squad with experience. They were left relying on the loan market and youth instead.
A tough opener against Bohs and Derry dampened expectations to a certain level, before a win against UCD and draws away to both Shamrock Rovers and Sligo that perhaps should have been wins.
A run of just one win in eight sent the club staring at the trap-door, before Colin Healy decided to step down as manager.
Liam Buckley had arrived as director of football, and he was charged with managing the side on an interim basis with assistance from Liam Kearney and Richie Holland.
They saw a first win in their third game after two agonising late defeats and prospects looked brighter. That started a run of four wins in a row including a dramatic encounter with Shamrock Rovers.
Hopes of better recruitment during the summer transfer window faded, and the side went eight games without a win including dropped points to relegation rivals.
The absence of Keating for personal reasons hit the club hard, but he returned to score a hat-trick against Sligo.
The club were to win only once more in the league to finish 6 points behind Sligo and into a promotion/relegation play-off with Waterford. Dreams of progressing to the FAI Cup final were ended at the Semi-Final stage when St. Pats won 2-0.
It came down to one final game at Tallaght Stadium to decide their future. Plans were spoiled when both Conor Drinan and Ruairi Keating were forced off in the first half with injuries.
They did manage to go ahead with a header from Cian Coleman before their rivals levelled shortly after. It went to extra time and Coleman was adjudged to have brought down Ronan Coughlan in the area.
The former City striker slotted home the penalty to give the Blues the lead.
The closest City managed to bring it to penalties was an effort by Owolabi that crashed off the woodwork. Back down to the First Division and starting from scratch after all the work over the previous two years.
What they need to improve on for next year:
Recruitment for one thing.
A large number of players are out of contract at the moment and will be set to depart the club.
Desmond Usher needs to be proactive and early with his signings if incoming boss Tim Clancy stands any chance of an immediate return to the topflight.
Home form is crucial at any level, and it was deserted this season.
At one point, having more goalkeepers on their books than victories at the Cross was a damning statistic.
The ground needs to become a fortress and difficult for visiting clubs to play at.
The side and style of play lacked the identity that Cork supporters could call their own.