- McHugh remains the Harps heartbeat
WHEN the board went up in the final minute of the game and the number 10 flashed up, Kevin McHugh was given a standing ovation from the Harps faithful.
His 53rd minute penalty was the 182nd goal of a Harps career that began 17 years ago this week and has now spanned 409 games.
Prior to the start of the season, McHugh said that this would be his last campaign in the number 10 shirt.
It is hallowed cloth in Ballybofey having previously adorned the backs of Brendan Bradley and Con McLaughlin, but McHugh has been a modern-day legend at Finn Park.
The spark of old might have dimmed with the passing of time, but his importance to Harps was rarely as obvious as it was on Friday.
He was the picture of cool as he riffled the penalty beyond Greg Murray, the Shelbourne goalkeeper, and he toiled himself to a near standstill thereafter, foraging deep and battling for the cause until he was replaced.
With six games left, there’ll hardly be a player more central to Harps’ promotion hopes.
Picture caption: Finn Harps’ Gareth Harkin get in his shot despite the best blocking attempts of Shelbourne’s captain Daire Doyle. Picture courtesy of Gary Foy, newsandsportfiles
- Consistent Coll a class act
DESPITE the fact that he only celebrates his 24th birthday this Wednesday, Ciaran Coll is Harps’ third most experienced player. He has made 164 appearances for the club, with only Kevin McHugh and Michael Funston ahead of him.
The former Heart of Midlothian youth player is enjoying his best campaign in a Harps shirt.
He’s a full-back in much the same mould as a Denis Irwin: Reliable and consistent without much fuss. Player ratings are the bane of the sportswriter’s beat, but in Coll’s case it would be a steady 7/8-out-of-ten each time.
His performance on Friday night was a perfect illustration. He gave Shels no joy on his side with a solid defensive display and he gave Harps a real outlet with his attacking bursts down the left flank.
- Friday night football has a new enemy
FRIDAY night saw the League of Ireland face a new enemy – a televised Barclay’s Premier League fixture in the form of Aston Villa v Manchester United.
League of Ireland fans mightn’t like to admit it, but the Sky-shown clash at Villa Park had an adverse affect on attendances here.
The die-hards, of course, won’t have paid much heed to happenings on the box, but for the casual observer it was another easy excuse not to wander along to the local game.
Bar Turner’s Cross in Cork, all the clubs reported a downturn in the crowd figures. For only the third time this season, the figure at Finn Park fell beneath the 700 mark – with 678 paying through the turnstiles for one of the biggest games of the season.
BBC Radio Foyle had an interesting discussion at half-time on Friday night with the consensus being that the League of Ireland fixture planners may have to be even more flexible in the future.
It was also a disappointment that the Donegal League game between Castlefin Celtic and Deele Harps was arranged for the same time.
- Shelbourne play for draw – and it backfires
THIRTEEN minutes from the end, Shelbourne manager Kevin Doherty called Philip Hughes ashore.
His team was trailing 1-0 in a game that was must-win for the Dubliners, but he withdrew one of his most potent threats from the play. Hughes, remember, had scored a hat-trick in the 3-2 win over Harps in June and, even though he was having an off night, the former Dundalk player was still the man to whom Shelbourne would’ve looked when in search of a goal.
They came into the game three points adrift of Harps and it was clear from the outset that the Red would settle for a draw – perhaps believing that they could reel in the three-point deficit.
It was strange, though, to see Hughes replaced when they were on the back foot and the tactics certainly backfired on the Tolka Park residents, who are now six behind Harps with six games to play.
- Play-off spot now in Harps’ hands
THESE kind of statements do come back to haunt at times, but Friday’s 1-0 win gives Harps a six-point cushion over Shelbourne with just half-a-dozen games remaining this season.
It would be criminal now were Harps to blow the advantage and give up a play-off spot.
Ollie Horgan, the manager, will remind us that each game will be ‘a battle’ from now until the season’s end, but the next three games – Cabinteely, Waterford and Cobh – are all games that Harps ought to be winning.
It would send them into the final three matches of the season, against UCD, Athlone and Wexford, with a handle on that play-off berth. It is now the least that Harps supporters should expect from the season.Tags: