Cork City’s defensive combinations

There are six defenders in the Cork City squad with numbers between 2 and 11.

John Kavanagh wears 2 and is a solid and dependable right-back.

Number 3 is former Irish international Alan Bennett, who has previously played for Reading, Wycombe Wanderers, Brentford and AFC Wimbledon among others. He wore 3 in his previous spell with City too – unusually as he is a centre-back – and it happened to be free on his return before the start of the 2015 season.

Captain John Dunleavy is the number 4 and he can play across the back four.

At number 5 is Darren Dennehy, primarily a centre-back but capable of playing at left-back.

Dan Murray wears number 6 and is an archetypal centre-back. His deployment as a defensive midfielder for one game this season stands out for its weirdness.

And finally, the number 11, Ross Gaynor, is a left-back. Despite us engaging in a running battle with him on Twitter, he continues to retain the shirt he began wearing when operating as a winger earlier in his career.

By our reckoning – and counting centre-back partnerships once, ignoring who’s on the right and who’s on the left – that makes 17 different four-man defensive combinations involving these six players. Or have our maths failed us again?

Guilty pleasures at Christmas

Early in the life of this blog, we elaborated – or tried to, at any rate – on the things about squad numbers which got our goat. It’s not to suggest, by the way, that we’re perfect ourselves, as proven by the fact we once signed attacking midfielder Stefano Fiore for Roma in CM99-00 and gave him the vacant number 6 rather than 28.

It seems only fair, therefore, that we should welcome the upcoming festive season with a balancing article which looks at the things which don’t follow the ‘classic’ numbering pattern but for which we have a ‘grá’ [it’s an Irish word similar to ‘affection’, pronounced ‘graw’]. The fact that each example has a caveat helps to ease our conscience.

We’ll limit our own to three, but we’ll open the floor to suggestions:

1. Number 2 at centre-back (but only if 4 is right-back)

Ryan McGarrity entered my office. The Northern Irish youngster had performed well since breaking into the Cork City team, forming a strong partnership at centre-back with German international Jurgen Becker. I should point out at this stage in the story that it technically occurred in the setting of a game of Football Manager 2012.

Captain Nathan Todd was retiring. He only had the armband for a year and was only ever intended to be stopgap after the retirement of club stalwart Aiden Kelly, who had come up through the ranks and gone on to become the Republic of Ireland left-back as well as winning everything domestically and leading the club to the Champions League group stages.

As Todd was getting on in years, I decided to leave him in the number 13 shirt he had made his own in proving a highly dependable back-up for Kelly or else playing in front of him at midfield. That was fine, but McGarrity was going to be the new captain, hopefully for more than a decade, so he couldn’t keep 17. Becker wore 5 and Lars Larsson, a D/DM C of high quality, was still an important squad member despite getting on and I couldn’t just take 4 off him. There was another vacant number, though.

“You’re the new captain,” I told McGarrity, “and you’re also the new number 2.”

“Am I moving to right-back?” he asked, incredulously.

“No, you’re staying where you are but I can’t have my long-term captain wearing a number higher than 11. You’d end up riding team-mates’ former girlfriends, parking in spaces reserved for disabled drivers and getting up to no good in general.”

Kasado was the first-choice right-back and kept number 22 until Larsson left at the age of 35. The Brazilian was also capable of playing centre-back and so 4 was a good fit for him. Most of the rest of the first team wore the ‘right’ numbers though and so, in some European games, when Larsson would come on for Swiss playmaker Adolfo Cappelletti as we switched to 4-1-4-1, the right-back was nominally number 10. It was an occupational hazard.

Apart from fictional examples, Argentina haven’t done too badly with 4 at right-back and 2 in the middle, while it worked out okay too for Liverpool in the 1980s.

2. Number 9 in the hole behind a strikeforce of 8 and 10

The ‘three foreigners’ rule came against Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League final as Johan Cruyff had to drop Michael Laudrup to accommodate Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoichkov and Romario. Without limitations, the Spanish side may have put up more of a fight against AC Milan, who beat them 4-0, but then maybe Milan might have had better foreigners too.

In La Liga, however, Barça played some lovely stuff. While they took the title based on their head-to-head record with Deportivo La Coruña, the sides were 10 clear of third-placed Real Zaragoza and this was with only two points for a win – had it been three then Cruyff’s side would have won the title.

With no restrictions on foreigners, Laudrup provided the bullets for Stoichkov and Romario, who had arrived from PSV Eindhoven. The Dane retained the number 9 he had worn in a more advanced role with Romario taking 10 and it just looked right – we wouldn’t have been as keen on, say, 8 and 11 or 7 and 10. Honourable mention for Arsenal in 1996-97, with Paul Merson playing behind Ian Wright and Denis Bergkamp.

3. Number 7 in central midfield but only if 8 or 10 plays on the right

Bryan Robson is mentioned a fair bit in this piece about Manchester United number 7s and he’s the first example of this trope who springs to mind.

We can’t exactly say why, but we like the look of a 7 being an all-round, domineering midfield, possibly more so than one in the playmaking role, though that fits fine too.

If 4 or 6 were moved to the right to accommodate this, then the OCD alarm might begin to sound, likewise 11 as it would mean another central number moving across to the left. A small amount of ‘wrong’ numbers is bearable, but don’t go too far with it.

The numbers to avoid at Cork City

In the final game of the 2011 Airtricity League Division 1 season, Cork City travelled to face Shelbourne with a lot at stake. Shelbourne were the league leaders, two points ahead of City while Monaghan United were two points further back, with the top two sides automatically promoted while the third-placed side would have to take part in a play-off against the side 10th in the Premier Division.

With the game heading towards injury time, Shelbourne and City were tied at 1-1, meaning that both would go up with Shels as champions. Then, City’s number 11 Derek O’Brien crossed from the left for number 9 Graham Cummins to head the winner, sparking delirium. This video probably sums up the situation best.

Cummins and O’Brien were gone by the time the 2012 season kicked off, however, sparking a somewhat pattern which has continued – the number 9 and number 11 at the start of each subsequent season have not been there by the end of the campaign. It’s not much better for number 10 – the wearer of the shirt that night in Tolka Park, Vinny Sullivan, remained for 2012 but he left after that and 10 has been worn by three different players since then.

It’s all a far cry from the decade or so when the club’s joint-top scorers of all-time, the strike partnership of Pat Morley and current manager John Caulfield, were fixtures in numbers 10 and 11, bringing so much joy that we were willing to overlook one of our big beefs. Here, then, is the list of those who have worn 9, 10 and 11 since 2011:

9: Graham Cummins was regularly among the goals in the title-winning season of 2011 and it was only natural that he would attract attention, with a transfer to Preston North End taking him from the club. For 2012, Davin O’Neill moved from 7 to 9 to reflect the fact that he was now more of a striker than a winger but he departed at the end of that season.

Daryl Kavanagh was a high-profile signing at the start of 2013 but things didn’t work out for him and he joined St Patrick’s Athletic midway through the season. Anthony Elding, the scorer of the winner for Sligo Rovers in the FAI Cup final signed for 2014 but he too departed prematurely. John O’Flynn, a distinguished owner of the number 9 in the past, took it upon his re-signing.

10: Vinny Sullivan left after the first season back in the Premier Division in 2012 and the returning Denis Behan, who had worn 21 in his previous stint at the club, took 10 in 2013. It wasn’t a successful reignition of his relationship with the club, though, and he was part of a mid-season cull.

Former Republic of Ireland underage international Michael Rafter signed this year but injury prevented him from playing a competitive minute and his contract is up at the end of the campaign. The number was re-assigned to Cillian Morrison when he signed but he hasn’t featured too heavily in the league.

11: O’Brien’s contract wasn’t renewed after the promotion-winning season, with Cork native Shane O’Connor taking over 11 after he returned home following stints with various clubs in England. He only made five appearances before being released, however. Adam Rundle was one of a raft of new attacking signings for 2013 but he didn’t fare much better in the 11 shirt than O’Connor, playing 12 games and scoring once before departing mid-season with Kavanagh, Behan and Danny Furlong.

Ian Turner had worn 2 since 2010, but had evolved from a right-back to a wide midfielder and sought a new number to reflect that. He struggled to find favour with Caulfield, though, and joined Limerick on loan during the season. Ross Gaynor, signed from Sligo Rovers at the end of July, now wears 11, but, tragically, he does so as a left-back.