BY CHRIS MCNULTY
JOHNNY Dunleavy hopes he can lead Cork City back to the trophy trail in 2014.
The Ballybofey native was this week confirmed as the Rebels’ captain for the new season.
New manager John Caulfield turned to the former Wolverhamton Wanderers conscript to wear the armband in a squad he hopes will bring silverware back to Turner’s Cross this year.
They returned to pre-season training on Monday – and Dunleavy admitted his surprise at the news.
“It came very unexpectedly, but it was a lovely call to get,” he told the Donegal News.
“The manager came and said he was considering it and he wanted my opinion. To even be considered was brilliant. I jumped at the chance. Hopefully it is a position that I can fill well.”
Cork had won promotion to the Premier Division for the 2012 season and Dunleavy wasn’t long after being released by Wolves when the Leesiders snapped up the defender.
Early in 2011, Dunleavy had been on loan at Barnet when injury cut short his stint. After leaving Molineaux that autumn, he had a trial at Vancouver Whitecaps, but nothing became of it – and the League of Ireland was calling.
“My cousin Michelle (Heeney) was living in Cork and I stayed with her,” he remembered.
“I met with the assistant manager, got the tour around Turner’s Cross and it wasn’t long before I made a decision.”
A former Republic of Ireland Under 21 international, Dunleavy – a son of former Donegal Gaelic football star Brendan Dunleavy – is loving life at the club for whom he signed a new contract last month.
He said: “ This will be my third season here.
“I love it at Cork. I have been very settled from the very start and the people here have been excellent.
“This was my first taste of senior football and I have really enjoyed it.
“Cork City is a massive club in the League of Ireland, but I was surprised by how big it actually is. Playing at Turner’s Cross with a big crowd in is something else. It’s the best place I’ve played in.”
A boyhood Finn Harps fan – he kept a Harps scarf above his bed when at Wolves and boyhood heroes were Kevin McHugh and Tom Mohan – he’ll be up against his hometown club in a pre-season friendly.
“I’ve never played a full match in Finn Park – I was disappointed to hear that the game was in Galway and not Ballybofey,” he said.
Dunleavy’s story has shown other young players that not managing to make a breakthrough in England doesn’t have to result in the roof caving in.
Indeed, he believes that the League of Ireland is the perfect breeding ground to cut the teeth.
He said: “The League here is underestimated. I think there’s a lot of untapped potential here – and people will come to realise that soon. There are a lot of very good footballers here, some more Seamus Colemans I feel.”
His narrative is full of unfortunate injury woes – but he hasn’t given up the hopes of one day winning a move back across the Irish Sea.
He said: “I had a few set-backs with injuries – I always seemed to get injured at the wrong time too, like in pre-season when I might have a chance of moving forward or have a chance of proving myself.
“I’m only twenty-two and still learning the game. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but at some stage I do hope to play at a higher level.”
The signing of Keith Fahy, a Republic of Ireland senior international, by the champions, St Patrick’s Athletic, has laid down a marker. Cork face Pat’s in the opening game of the 2014 season in March.
Cork themselves have been busy. As well as retaining the sought-after Danny Morrissey, Cork have signed striker Anthony Elding from Sligo, winger Billy Dennehy from Shamrock Rovers, midfielder Darren Murphy from Woking and striker Michael Rafter from Derry City.
Dunleavy is upbeat for the new season.
He said: “We want to kick on and challenge for trophies. The first year in the Premier Division was about consolodating.
“Last year we probably didn’t progress as well as we would have expected, but it was still a good season. We have recruited well now over the closed season so hopefully we have a squad capable of competing.”