A YEAR AGO today, November 6 2015, BJ Banda scored one of the most iconic goals in Finn Harps history – but five years ago today, November 6 2011, the Ballybofey club was in one of its darkest corners.
A year has passed since Banda flicked home Damien McNulty’s cross to give Harps a dramatic, breathless play-off win over Limerick FC.
That moment, Banda heading in at the Town End and the sheer rush of adrenaline afterwards, has been replayed ever since by Harps supporters.
It was a goal that put Harps into the top flight for the first time since 2008, when they were relegated after just one season of Premier Division football.[adrotate group=”38″]
But fot a different turn of events five years ago, Banda might never have got his chance at rewriting history.
November 6, 2011, was also a Sunday.
And a dark Sunday at that for followers of Finn Harps.
A meeting of the club’s shareholders was called in Jackson’s Hotel. The pages of the local newspapers have been full of the headlines about ‘cash-strapped Harps’ over the years, but in 2011 the club was on the verge of having its toes tagged for the League of Ireland’s morgue.[adrotate group=”80″]
“We are on the brink,” were the haunting words delivered by then Chairman Joey O’Leary, to a crowd of only around 30 shareholders.
The Board put their cards on the table and their necks on the line. The message was blunt: €48,000 was needed by December 21 or the gates down Navenny Street would be permanently padlocked.
From the 2011 season alone, the club had debts of almost €50,000, including a six-week period of wages, after a season that saw them finish ninth in the First Division and saw gate receipts plummet by €54,000.
O’Leary, explaining that the money was needed to enable the club apply for a licence, said: “It’s a scenario that is frightening to say the least. The club has a deadline, we’re confident that we can do it and we’ll do all we can to achieve it.
“If we don’t achieve the licence we don’t have a product – that’s the bottom line for Finn Harps at the moment.”
Harps rolled the dice.
A Monster Draw, so often the saviour, was taking in the thousands, but not at a rate quick enough to meet the deadline and a function with former Liverpool and Ireland player Ronnie Whelan was arranged.
Shamrock Rovers bought €70 Monster Draw tickets, but Harps were still racing against time.
In late November 2011, Ballybofey-based Fine Gael Councillor Martin Harley tabled a motion to Donegal County Council at a meeting in Lifford calling for the body to go to Harps’ aid.
Barry O’Neill, a Fine Gael Councillor based in Ballyshannon, who works for RTÉ Sport, seconded the motion and it was passed.[adrotate group=”76″]
The Council allocated a a grant of €20,000 to Harps and it meant the tin buckets didn’t have to rattle as loudly. Finn Harps was saved.
The public reaction, however, was one of widespread anger. Why, Shaun Doherty was asked at length on his morning programme on Highland Radio, should Finn Harps be bailed out by the Council?
Letters to the Editors of the local newspapers asked similar questions.
“That was a complete PR disaster,” one Harps director of the time described the club’s reaction.
“As a club we didn’t explain what we were doing with the money. It was like: ‘Jesus, €20,000 to a football club and look at our roads and hospital’. We should have explained it better.[adrotate group=”50″]
“Without that payment from the Council, I don’t think that the FAI would have given us a licence. Without that, there was no possible way that we could have kept the ball in the air.”
And without it, there was no possible way Banda could have hung in the air and performed his moment of magic, four years on from a night that could have been the beginning of the end.
Perhaps it was a night that made last year’s moment taste even sweeter.