Cork City and Dundalk get the new League of Ireland season under way when they go head-to-head in the curtain raising President’s Cup at Turner’s Cross.
Champions Dundalk remain the team that everyone else wants to beat as they go for their third consecutive SSE Airitricity Premier Division title and will also be hoping to hold onto the President’s Cup after winning it with a 2-1 victory over St Patrick’s Athletic.
The Lillywhites will have a close to fully fit squad with Daryl Horgan, Dane Massey and David McMillan coming into contention after their respective injuries while Sean Gannon should return after missing last week’s friendly.
Ciaran O’Connor is the only definite absentee with an ankle ligament injury.
Dundalk skipper Stephen O’Donnell is eager to see his side pick up where they left off last year and to start the season with a win.
”Pre-season has gone well for us. Everyone got the minutes that they needed on the pitch so we’re in good shape,” O’Donnell said.
“We’ve had some tough matches which is good for us but we’re ready. The manager has targeted the President’s Cup since the beginning of pre-season so we’re looking forward to it.
“You don’t want to be going into the start of the season on the back of a loss so it’s important to us that we win the game and be competitive.
“It’d be nice to go into the season winning against one of the strongest teams in the league – our closest challengers the last few seasons – so we’ll be looking to go to win the game. We won it last year so we want to keep the trophy.”
Cork manager John Caulfield is just as eager to lay down an early marker and believes that a win for the Rebels could set the tone for the rest of the season.
“We have had two strong seasons, up near the top and qualifying for Europe and it is great now to have the President’s Cup final at Turner’s Cross. They were the top team last season and this game will show where we are at,” he said.
“The new players who have come in have added massive impetus and I think, throughout the squad, there is a tremendous spirit and we need to build on that.”
“Dundalk will be coming down here with their strongest team; we know who is going to play and what way they are going to play, so we will be looking to show that we can challenge the level they have been at for the last two seasons.
“While we have been close to Dundalk, they have set a very high bar, so it will be a very competitive game and to have it a week before the start of the season is fantastic for us and for our supporters. This game will be a good indicator of where we are at; it is an opportunity for us to show if we have improved from last season, which I believe we have.”
On the injury front, John Kavanagh remains sidelined as he recovers from surgery, while Kevin O’Connor and Mark O’Sullivan have both suffered knocks but Caulfield is hopeful that they will be available.