While the previous campaign had been the first to embrace the concept of summer soccer (insert own joke about Irish summers here), the 2003 season was the first to be completed in the same calendar year. Ostensibly, the reason for the change was so that Irish clubs could compete in European competitions, being in the middle of the season helping fitness levels against clubs from other countries who were just returning to pre-season training. It would prove to be a successful gambit over the coming years, though of course the question then arises as to what happens when an Irish club does well enough to seriously progress in Europe, as they would then have to play during the 'new' off-season.
Dolan also signed a young striker, Kevin Doyle, from Pat's, who would coincidentally provide the opposition for the opening fixture at the Cross on Saturday, April 12, the first to be televised live by TV3 as part of their new deal with the league. On the kits front, while the home design remained unchanged, there were subtle alterations to the shorts as the position of number once again changed, this time to the left leg, while a new sponsor, Wallace Construction, was featured on the right leg (above left). This deal was another of Dolan's, as he was good friends with Wexford builder Mick Wallace, who would later go on to bring Wexford Youths into the league.
The Pat's game would finish scoreless but City would follow that with three successive wins, against UCD, Bohemians and Longford Town before suffering a first defeat, 2-1 away to Shamrock Rovers of May 4. That game saw a first outing for the new away kit (top right), which was primarily navy with green and red trim while green socks were also curiously used. Even odder, for the trip to the Brandywell - another loss, this time 1-0 - two weeks later, the shirts of John O'Flynn and George O'Callaghan were without the Guinness logo (middle right).
At Cork City, there were changes afoot as Liam Murphy stepped down as manager, to be replaced by former St Patrick's Athletic manager Pat Dolan. While at Pat's, Dolan had shown himself to be skilful at promoting the club, rebranding them the 'Supersaints', and he wasted no time attempting to do the same at City as the 'Rebel Army' brand was born.
Those defeats formed part of a disappointing winless run, which also featured a loss to Drogheda, when the away strip was also worn, though this time the long-sleeved version - with green on the lower parts of the sleeves - was available to the players (below right). Another side-effect of the new change kit was that the socks were able to be used with the home kit, creating an all-green outfit (left), and results began to improve again, with City sharing second place with Pat's in mid-July, though Shelbourne were building up quite a lead at the top of the table. A bit of trivia with the new away was that the shorts appeared in The Bourne Supremacy!
Shels' European involvement meant they missed a few games, though, and the visit of Pat's to Turner's Cross on August 29 allowed the winners to seize top spot. Ultimately, it was the visitors' night as they claimed a 2-0 win, a draw away to UCD and another home loss, to Bohemians, reducing the battle for the league to what seemed like a two-horse race between two Dublin clubs. That was the way things would pan out, but Bohemians would challenge Shels rather than Pat's as the Inichicore side's form collapsed - exemplified by of a 2-0 win for City at Richmind Park - and while there were further losses, to Bohs again, Waterford and Shels, for City, overall it was an impressive end to the season as the club finished in third place on 53 points, 11 adrift of Bohs and a further five behind the champions Shelbourne. It meant a return of European football in the form on the Intertoto Cup and the mood ahead of 2004 was a positive one.