PAUL HEGARTY is not in the habit of doing other clubs favours - but tonight he could all but end Cork City’s title challenge and give an old friend a helping hand.
Hegarty aims to avenge the FAI Cup quarter-final defeat - which ironically ended Peter Hutton’s reign and presented him with the chance to manage the ‘Candy Stripes’ - when Derry take on the ‘Rebels’ at Turner’s Cross tonight. (Kick-off 7.25 p.m. Live on RTE).
And an away victory for Derry, coupled with a Dundalk win over Limerick tomorrow would all but guarantee Stephen Kenny’s troops consecutive league championships.
Hegarty, who shared a dugout with Kenny as his assistant at Brandywell in 2005, may have no interest in presenting his former boss with the title, but he believes he can secure a win at Turner’s Cross which will have major repercussions on the 2015 title race.
Cork are currently 11 points off the pace at the top with a game in hand and with Dundalk to come to Turner’s Cross in the final game.
And while Hegarty is of the opinion that Cork are still very much title challengers, his interest is solely on securing Premier Division safety for the ‘Candy Stripes’.
We’ll be going to Cork and trying to play on the front foot from the first whistle. It’s important to try and get the first goal.Paul Hegarty
Cork have won seven and drawn once in their last eight meetings with Derry so the visiting club will be huge underdogs.
However, Hegarty is confident he can get a positive result with a victory potentially moving Derry into sixth place.
“If I was John Caulfield I’d be thinking, if we can beat Derry, Dundalk have to go to Limerick on Saturday night and the way Limerick’s playing at the minute there’s a good chance they could win that game,” said Hegarty.
“If Cork win their game in hand there would be six points in it and Dundalk have to travel to Turner’s Cross on the last day of the season. That would be the way I would be looking at it. If I was John Caulfield I’d be still thinking we have a realistic chance of winning the league. But we know it’s going to be a tough game and we’re going to have to do well to win the match. We have to be positive and all the signs I’ve seen from the players this week have been positive. It’s a great venue to play football in,” he continued. “The players all love going to Cork. There’s a great atmosphere, it’s a great ground, the pitch is superb. If you want to play football, it’s the place you want to play.
“We’re not under any illusions. Cork are sitting second for a reason. They have been very consistent all season.
“But we played well in patches against Shamrock Rovers and we can improve an awful lot on that and hopefully we can get a bit better against Cork on Friday night.
“We’ll be going to Cork and trying to play on the front foot from the first whistle. It’s important to try and get the first goal.”
Hegarty has suggested there could be changes to the team which defeat Shamrock Rovers last weekend but he remains hopeful that skipper Ryan McBride and Patrick McEleney pass late fitness tests in Cork.