NEVER BEFORE has the value of the volunteer been more apparent at Finn Harps.
As the club enters its second season back in the cut-throat world of the Premier Division, the Donegal club has outlined the extent to which its very survival depends on its volunteers.
An open forum at the Balor Theatre on Monday night heard a comprehensive presentation from Harps Commercial Officer Aidan Campbell on the inner workings of the club.
Harps have been beset by financial difficulties and burdened by a near-crippling historical debt that continues to cast an imposing shadow, but they have managed to outlive the likes of Kilkenny City, Sporting Fingal, Kildare County and Monaghan United.
Mervue and Salthill came and went and the likes of Cork City, Derry City and Galway United have been under different guises but all the while Harps have managed to stave off the grim reaper’s beckon.
“Sheer hard work and experience of volunteers has kept senior football in Donegal,” Mr Campbell told a crowd of around 50 supporters on Monday night.
He outlined the numbers involved at Harps right now.
With over 250 players on the books and almost 7,000 children involved in the school’s programme, the club is indebted to in the region of 400 plus people that Campbell says are ‘actively involved’ in the club.
Before the appointment of Ollie Horgan as manager in 2013, club officials had to have a drastic rethink and the very future of the club was in question for a period – but Harps, as they’ve managed to do for the last five decades, survived.
“The Finn Harps family came together,” Campbell said.
“The likes of Charlie McHugh, a club stalwart, did trojan work with the lotto and we outscourced the match programme to Joe Doherty and his contributors.
“These things solely paid the wages that we had to make.
“It was all about circling the wagons and we had serious commitment from the directors, a lot of whom put in their own money.
“The supporters of this club have been fantastic. We didn’t always have the best product on the pitch, but people came together.”
The appointment of Horgan raised eyebrows in many quarters, but in three seasons Harps have reached the FAI Cup semi-finals, won promotion and consolodated their place in the Premier Division.
Mr Campbell spoke about the club’s ‘footballing strategy’ and how the club asked itself hard questions before appointing Horgan just over three years ago now.
He said: “We did a lot of firefighting behind the scenes.
“It was really difficult to get time and space to go through the football operation.
“We knew we didn’t have a lot of money and we wanted someone to come in who would turn the odds in our favour.”
The wheel never stops, even in the off-season.
Harps have spent what Campbell says is ‘a fortune’ on facilites, with Finn Park’s pitch most recently getting a makeover following a season in which its standard was highlighted on occasion.
Campbell said: “Some ground works and pipe works have been done and the pitch will see significant improvement. We had issues last year and had games cancelled last season, but we expect a big improvement on that this year.”
The club’s expenditure for 2017 will go north of half-a-million but by Premier Division standards in the current climate those figures are conservative.
Campbell said: “If the club is to reach financial targets there has to be collective involvement from the Board, supporters and volunteers.
“Ideally we would have a full-time general manager or co-ordinator. At the moment, that just isn’t feasible.
A lot of the roles in the club are under licence. It has brought cohesion and professionalism to what we do.
“People may not be happy at times, but you cannot stop what you’re doing. We have to have the finance to run a club.
“We have to ask ourselves how to we make sure financially viable in new season?”