Nobody knew it at the time, but 1996-97 would prove to be the last season in which Cork City wore white shirts and green shorts. While the outfit changes were a year away, on the pitch the team was undergoing some surgery as new manager Dave Barry, assisted by long-term midfield partner Liam Murphy, set about undoing the playing-staff alterations that had left the team in the lower reaches of the table.
Goalkeeper Noel Mooney, defenders Noel Hartigan and Derek Coughlan, midfielders Ollie Cahill and Kelvin Flanagan and striker Damien O'Connell were among the newcomers, while veteran midfielder Patsy Freyne returned to the club after a five-year hiatus. Friendlies against Manchester City and Southampton at Temple Hill, the home of rugby club Cork Constitution, were supposed to help the team come into the new season on a good footing, but things could scarcely have gone worse as the first four league games, against Bohemian, Sligo Rovers, UCD and Finn Harps, were all lost. There were signs of potential in a 3-0 away win against St Patrick's Athletic, before the league rot was stopped with a victory in the fifth game, 3-1 against Shelbourne, with whom Pat Morley now played.
That win ushered in a six-game unbeaten run, with the next loss not coming until Shamrock Rovers beat City in the 12th round of games. In the pre-season games and the early rounds of the League Cup, the previous season's kits - including the short-sleeved version with the older crest - were worn, with green socks still being favoured (above). An overdue change of away kit came, however, with the black kit finally being retired after almost three years of use. The replacement saw a return to a mainly red shirt, but there was a twist as it had one red sleeve and one white one (right). Otherwise, the design was the same as Spain wore at Euro 96 the previous summer, with three red stripes on a white background on the left-hand side of the shirt. The shorts were the same style as seen on the home kit in 1994-95, though in white with red stripes, while the same faint three-stripe pattern that featured on the jersey was also present.
The away shirt also featured sleeve patches that were now worn by all team in the national league, and these were seen on the new consignment of long-sleeved home shirts when they arrived (below). Other than the new accoutrements, the new set featured black numbers rather than red ones while the cuffs were now white as opposed to green
in 1995-96. Midway through the season, the white socks returned as City continued their slide up the table, rising to fourth, just three points behind leaders Derry City, after a win away to Finn Harps in December. A winless run of four games, three draws and a defeat, over the Christmas and New Year period put paid to any notions of a title charge, however, while Galway United secured a 2-1 aggregate victory over City in the League Cup final, the second leg in Turner's Cross a 1-1 draw after Galway had won the first game. There was a revenge of sorts, though, as City bought Galway's best player, midfielder Mark Herrick, for IR£15,000 at the end of January.
The FAI Cup didn't provide any joy either, but going into final round of league games at the end of May, City were still in with a shout of a European spot. Shamrock Rovers were the visitors to Turner's Cross with City three points ahead of St Patrick's Athletic in fourth, but Pat's were easily disposing of Home Farm/Everton while Tony Cousins' penalty put Rovers ahead with 10 minutes to go. It looked as if Pat's would go into the Intertoto Cup on goal difference before Colin O'Brien's late equaliser saved the day for City. The Intertoto would see the introduction of another new strip, but that's another story.