Saturday 25 January 2020

Shining on Leeside

Wexford trio key figures in title drive

Kevin O'Connor is about to complete a dream move to Preston
Kevin O'Connor is about to complete a dream move to Preston
Ryan Delaney celebrating a recent goal against Shamrock Rovers
Greg Bolger's experience is another crucial component in Cork City's impressive march to the SSE Airtricity Premier Division title

Alan Aherne

A talented Wexford trio are contributing immensely to the apparent runaway march of rampant Cork City to the SSE Airtricity Premier Division title - although two of them might miss out on the second half of the season for very good reasons.

The Leesiders currently hold a seemingly uncatchable 18-point lead over holders Dundalk, with the action set to resume on Friday after a brief holiday break.

And they have been driven on from the back by Kevin O'Connor from Screen and New Ross lad Ryan Delaney, while another Barrowsider, Greg Bolger, is putting all of his experience to good use in the midfield department.

It has been a meteoric rise for Delaney in particular, as he was performing at centre-half for Wexford Youths in their brief sojourn in Premier ranks last year when his promise was spotted by English Championship outfit Burton Albion.

And while he hasn't featured at that level yet, the towering defender has prospered from the decision to loan him back to Cork City for the first half of the season.

The manager at Turner's Cross, John Caulfield, is very keen to keep Delaney on the books and has been in talks with his Burton counterpart, Nigel Clough, since the loan period expired at the start of this month.

However, there may be another incredible twist to the story as it emerged last week that Celtic also have the 20-year-old defender on their radar.

It is expected that Delaney's future, for the remainder of this season at least, will be decided before the start of next month.

Meanwhile, July is set to mark the beginning of a special adventure for Kevin O'Connor, the Cork City left-back and Republic of Ireland Under-21 international who started his career with Curracloe United and arrived by the banks of the Lee via Waterford United.

It has been reported in England that he is 'on the verge' of moving to another Championship outfit, Preston North End, therefore following swiftly in the footsteps of Cork City's star striker, Kilkenny man Seán Maguire, who has already signed on the dotted line with the Lancashire club.

John Caulfield has managed to keep Maguire until the end of July so he is expected to figure in their Europa League group stage qualification attempt.

And if O'Connor (22) also moves to Deepdale, a similar arrangement is likely to apply. Already Preston boast a very strong Irish contingent as Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle joined from Dundalk during the season while international Aiden McGeady was on loan to them from Everton.

Alan Browne, Greg Cunningham and Eoin Doyle are others there to ensure that it would be like a home away from home for O'Connor who has been simply outstanding in his two seasons with Cork City.

The third Wexfordman with the Leesiders, Greg Bolger, has been a League of Ireland stalwart since making his debut with U.C.D. ten years ago.

Now 28, he has represented his country at Under-23 level and has won Premier Division and FAI Cup medals in the past with St. Patrick's Athletic.

He also numbers Sporting Fingal and Dundalk among his former clubs, and is widely regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders in the league.

A combination of injury and the strong form shown by Conor McCormack after his arrival from Derry City means that Bolger isn't holding down a regular spot with Cork right now.

Still, his experience is invaluable in a relatively youthful squad, and he has played his part in an incredible push for the title.

Cork have only dropped two points from a possible 51, winning 16 of their 17 games and drawing the other against Galway United.

They lived in the shadows of Dundalk until last season's FAI Cup final when Bolger and O'Connor featured in a merited 1-0 victory.

That marked the turning point in a strong rivalry between the clubs, with Cork now utterly dominant as their recent 3-0 league win in Oriel Park underlined.

While 16 league games remain, it would be nothing short of a miracle at this stage if Dundalk were to bridge the gigantic 18-point gap at the top.

Wexford People