Former Cork City star, John Caulfield, sat down with West Cork Schoolboys League columnist, Ger McCarthy, to discuss a wide range of football related subjects. John has a long association with the West Cork Schoolboys League in his role as Coach of the Kennedy Cup representative side. Current manager of Avondale United, he was recently nominated for the Cork City Hall of Fame along with Pat Morley, Mick Conroy, Declan Daly, Phil Harrington, Alex Ludzic and Gerry McCabe. John works as Sales Representative for Bulmer’s in Cork.
City and Avondale
The interview begins with some reminiscing about John's early days with Cork city. He remembers those humble beginnings with a rye smile: "My debut was back in 1986 in the League Cup competition against Kilkenny City. My first league game occurred shortly after that against Sligo Rovers". Playing for City in the late 1980's was very different from today's setup. "I can remember starting off with City when we were regularly near the bottom of the table and crowds were quite small to be honest. Within four years the squad had strengthened and matured considerably and the attendances began to swell".
John played with many great individuals in his time at Turners Cross but believes the camaraderie within the squad was one of the main reasons for the club's early success. "It was a joy to play alongside the likes of Pat Morley, Dave Barry and Patsy Freyne for nearly a decade. Those guys formed the backbone of the City side and there was a great bond amongst the players. We were more or less an all-Cork team compared to the Dublin sides who had players signed from all over the country. There was a set core to the team and that definitely became a huge advantage for us over the years".
What was it like playing in Turners Cross, especially in front of the Shed? "It is only now since I have finished playing that I look back on how fantastic it truly was. I remember the massive crowds, electric atmosphere and joy of lifting trophies. I know from talking to ex-players from around the country how much they enjoyed the experience of coming to the Cross just as I did visiting grounds like the Brandywell in Derry. You never forget the atmosphere, the excitement and the adrenalin rush you used to get playing in those places".
In recent times John has enjoyed great success since taking over the managerial reigns at Avondale United. The Cork club have won the FAI Intermediate Cup for the past two seasons which is a great source of pride. “I enjoy working with Michael Punch, Damian O'Connell, Kevin Daly and Adrian Ryan immensely”. John has succeeded in taking all his experience from playing with Cork City and passed it on to the players at Avondale. “To be honest we have players, coaches and back room staff who work very hard for the club. You need that huge commitment by both management and players to have any chance of success.”
Living in Balineen, West Cork, John got involved with the under-age setup in local West Cork League side Riverside Athletic. “Back in the late 90's Stephen Roth was looking after West Cork Schoolboys League Kennedy Cup representative team. I was studying on an F.A.I. coaching course at the time under the tuition of Brian Kerr and Noel O' Reilly”. The former Republic of Ireland manager and coach were regular attendees at the annual Kennedy Cup tournament in Limerick. Both knew John was residing in the West Cork area and encouraged him to get involved in the competition. “Stephen Roth was an incredibly funny and enthusiastic guy and along with him I began training the team and attending the Kennedy Cup tournaments and just fell in love with the competition”.
As the years progressed West Cork Schoolboys League Chairman, Paddy McCarthy, gave John free reign to organise the training and preparation of the Kennedy Cup squad. “ I brought in various people to help out with preparing the squad like Cork City U17's Coach Pat Curran, James Walsh from Drinagh Rangers, Conor Uhl from Ardfield, John Collins from Skibbereen and Danny Peters from Bay Rovers. Paddy McCarthy was and still is one of the chief organisers of the squad and provides excellent support”. Over time John helped introduce a structure to the selection process for the final squad and kept innovating and improving the training sessions as best he could. “We encouraged West Cork based clubs to send their best players to the Kennedy Cup training sessions and then over a period of four months reduced the final squad to the best 20 players to represent the league in the Kennedy Cup”.
John’s hard work and dedication is clearly evident in West Cork’s recent success at the prestigious tournament. “When we started attending the Kennedy Cup we were one of the lowest ranked leagues in the competition. In the last 6 or 7 years we have now become one of the top seeds”. West Cork is currently ranked 7th best Schoolboys League in the country. “We are the second smallest league in the country with only a handful of clubs to pick from yet regularly reach the last eight which just shows the huge potential for soccer in West Cork”. Is he surprised by the recent success of the WCSL in the Kennedy Cup? “Not at all, because of the fantastic talent at underage level in West Cork right now. I have no doubt that our best players are every bit as good as those players in Dublin or any of the Northern leagues”. “We have been lucky as well to have had a host of very enthusiastic parents who have been involved in fundraising down through the years. It is an expensive tournament to attend but parents are happy to help out in any way they can”.
From his vast experience as both a player and a manager what advice does John have for any person interested in getting involved in coaching young soccer players? “No matter what age you are or at whatever level you aspire to, you can never stop learning. Start with the Kick-start coaching courses to get a basic foundation and move on from there. These courses help you get organised and introduce useful training ideas and methodologies”. He lists the various coaching qualifications to go through: “Kick-Start is the first step with levels 1, 2 and 3. I currently have my UEFA coaching licence which must be renewed on an annual basis. The next step up is the PRO licence which would allow me to get involved with a professional club”.
John recounts the best piece of advice he ever received as a player: “The idea or principle that you should treat any player the way you would like to be treated yourself. Especially for kids where you are picking a squad of 15 they know themselves the best 15 are likely to be selected. I try to be honest with all the players and always try to have a balance when picking any team”.
Ill-discipline both on and off the pitch is on the rise and the Avondale United manager has some strong views on the subject. “The key issue in youth soccer is currently ill-discipline. It is a huge problem and I would like to see clubs taking a more active role in discouraging ill-discipline towards players, coaches and especially referees. The proposed idea that only the Captain of a team should be allowed approach an official to question a decision (much like in rugby union) is a good one and should be introduced into soccer”.
In John’s opinion, what makes a good striker? ”There are two vital elements. Firstly, no matter what position you play in you have to work extremely hard and look after yourself to get the best out of yourself. As a striker you must give as much time as possible to practicing your finishing. This is critical for any striker. Learning to time your runs is also crucial for any forward”.
John encourages young players to go and see Cork City in action as often as possible. “We are all heavily influenced by the Premiership and I am no different myself. Cork City play at the highest level in this country and are a very professional outfit. Here is a fantastic team playing attractive football right on your doorstep”. He mentions the cracking atmosphere and the fact Irish internationals Colin Healy and Gareth Farrelly are regularly on display. “Remember the talented players who were turning out for City like Kevin Doyle, Alan Bennett and Shane Long who are now established Premiership players for Reading. It’s only two years since all of these players were regularly turning out for Cork City. You have the opportunity to go and see them live every second week, which will only cost you a fraction of what weekend in England would to see a team there”.
I have fond memories of travelling to Turners Cross back in the early 1990's to see John in action for Cork City. As a striker he always gave 100%. It was always a thrill to see ‘one of our own’ from West Cork pulling on the City jersey and saluting the Shed End having just billowed the opposition’s net. John Caulfield deserves to go down in history as one of the most respected players and managers in the history of Cork soccer.