Johnny Dunleavy, captain of SSE Airtricity League Premier Division side, Cork City, is heading home to the Twin Towns this weekend to fulfil a lifetime ambition.
The Cork City skipper was born and brought up a stone’s throw from Finn Park, the home of Finn Harps.
However, he has never played a game on the famed Finn Park sod.
He has trained on it alright and did so regularly when on holidays and breaks during his couple of season with top English club Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“I have never played a game on Finn Park. I have played far more games across the road in MacCumhaill Park,” explained Johnny, who was also a talented underage Gaelic footballer with Sean MacCumhaill’s, before signing professional terms with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“Ballybofey United was my team growing up though I trained on Finn Park with the Harps boys on my breaks from Wolves,” added Johnny as he made his way home from a gym session on Tuesday afternoon, to put his feet up for the rest of the day.
The session in the gym was his second session of the day.
He had an on pitch training session in the morning.
Cork City are a full-time professional team and Johnny trains twice a day, five and six days a week.
Finn Harps host the Leesiders and recent winners of the President’s Cup, in the season’s opener in the SSE Airtricity League in Finn Park, tomorrow night (Friday).
On the way back from a lengthy layoff from injury that sidelined him for most of last season, he is hoping that he will finally grace the hallowed sod in Friday night’s clash.
“I suffered a knee injury back in May. It turned out to be a micro fracture and while it wasn’t a serious injury, it was a delicate one and the recovery was slow.
“It ruled me out for two thirds of last year which was tough but thankfully, I’m fully recovered now, and rarin’ to go.
“I have done the gym work and have had a good preseason and it is up to the manager now whether I play or not on Friday night.
“But I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful I will get a few minutes at some stage to ease me back into the team.
“Obviously coming from Ballybofey, it is a game I would love to play in and it is the one fixture I looked out for at the start of the year.
“I missed last year’s fixture because I was injured and in fact I have only played against Harps twice, one was last year’s home league game and the other was a friendly game we played in Galway.”
Johnny is 25, he turns 26 in July and has been capped for the Republic of Ireland at U-19 and U-21 level.
He is starting his sixth season with Cork City, having joined the club in January 2012, after being released by Wolves the previous August and following a trial with major league club Vancouver Whitecaps.
And he has been captain for the past four seasons and will lead the team again this season.
“John Caulfield made me captain when he was appointed manager and I’m really enjoying it.
“Cork is a fantastic football city. They really love their football in Cork and Cork City is a great club and we have great support and there is a great atmosphere at home games.
“We had a fantastic year last year though it was hard for me looking on from the sideline.
“We won the FA Cup, we finished second to Dundalk in the league, who we beat in the Cup final, and we had a good run in Europe.
“We had a fantastic night and a brilliant homecoming after winning the FAI Cup; there was somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 people out to meet us when we came back to the City. It was a brilliant night.”
Cork City have been runners up to Dundalk for the last three seasons in SSE Airtricity League Premier Division.
Cork kicked off the new season with a 3-0 win over Dundalk last weekend, in the FAI President’s Cup.
“Dundalk have been an exceptional team but I feel we have been improving year on year and we have a better team this season than last.
“But I think it is going to be a very competitive league and I expect Derry to do well this year and there is a lot talk about Limerick.
“They have come up from the First Division and they seem to have a good squad of players and Shamrock Rovers are also a good side. So there is plenty of competition for points.”
He may be looking forward to working his place back into the team and he may be enjoying playing with Cork City and his life on the Banks of the Lee, but there is nowhere like home and mother’s cooking.
“I have settled well here in Cork, but Donegal is still my home and I get up home as often as I can but during the playing season it is not that easy.
“That is why I’m looking forward to going up later in the week.
“We are heading up on Thursday and I hope to pay mum and dad a flying visit and I will also have to call into see my gran Bridget Heeney.”