KEITH COWAN WAS playing for Raphoe Hockey Club in 2004 when he got invited to train with Finn Harps by then manager Felix Healy.
Cowan, 18 at the time, hadn’t played competitive football since he was 13.
Instead, he was making waves on the pitches of the Ulster Hockey League with Raphoe’s seniors.
When Raphoe won promotion from Senior 2 to Senior 1, which was then the top flight, it was Cowan who scored the winner in a 4-3 victory over Queen’s.
Conall Dunne, who would later play Gaelic football for Donegal, was on the same Raphoe side that included stalwarts like Gabriel McNulty, David Buchanan, Johnny Weir and David Buchanan.
Cowan was one of the emerging prospects at the Royal and Prior.
Sport was in the genes anyway given that his father, Davy, played League of Ireland football with Athlone Town.[adrotate group=”38″]
Before hockey became his game as a teenager, Keith Cowan played for Swilly Rovers up to under-10s and then played for a star-studded Letterkenny Rovers Under-14 side that included Conrad Logan, Michael Funston, Tommy Bonner, Kieran Harte, Ryan McGavigan and Frank McGlynn.
That was him done. Untill one night at Finn Park in 2004. A fundraising drive was on for a new pitch at the Royal. Cowan played for a Raphoe Hockey Club select against a Finn Harps select.
“Felix was just in as the manager at the time,” Cowan remembers.
“We lost 4-1, but I managed to get on the scoresheet and played well. Felix said to be to come up for a bit of training and away I went. I had only played football for a bit of craic in the few years before that, but suddenly I was going up to join a senior team.”[adrotate group=”50″]
That season, Healy led Harps to the First Division title and, with it, promotion back to the top flight where, in 2005, having played initially with the Eddie Seydak-managed Under-21s, Cowan made four fleeting appearances.
Cowan’s experience is often forgotten.
He has made 167 appearances for Harps now – scoring eight goals – and yesterday he turned 31.
He’s had two cruciate knee ligament injuries, but came back from both, playing a bit for Swilly Rovers in the Ulster Senior League before returning to Harps.[adrotate group=”46″]
Cowan is a straight-down-the-middle type and he cuts to the chase when assessing Harps’ current form.
A run of four games without a win and a similar sequence of fixtures without a goal has Finn Harps back just above the Premier Division’s low-water mark.
They still have a five-point cushion to Wexford Youths, the current occupiers of the play-off berth, but Cowan makes no bones about what the last month has been like.[adrotate group=”37″]
“The last few weeks just haven’t been good enough,” says Cowan.
“Look, it’s up to us to get back to what we were good at and being hard to beat. This group is intent on staying up and that was always the objective.
“We need that mentality from last season again: The grit and the grinding out of results.”
Before the recent slump, Harps had won three in a row after taking a point off Friday’s opponents, Shamrock Rovers, at the end of May and the summer has been a stop-start one.[adrotate group=”76″]
With Rovers, now under Stephen Bradley’s watch following the departure of Pat Fenlon, back in Ballybofey again, Cowan believes Harps must arrest the slide.
He says: “It’s important to get something back on the board again.
“Before the break, we felt as if we had our act together. We were playing decent football and we were getting results.
“A lot of people were saying: ‘You’re safe now’ but that was never the case.
“There was maybe a bit of first season syndrome with us. We fought really hard for the points we have and we gave it a real go. Maybe a wee bit of complacency set in and we just turned up.[adrotate group=”53″]
“There are no easy games in this League. It’s funny, every team is getting points and wins where you wouldn’t think they’d get them.”
The nadir for Harps supporters arrived a fortnight ago when Derry City left Ballybofey toasting a 5-0 win.
It was a night when Ollie Horgan, the Harps manager, said his team had been ‘out fought’.
Cowan says: “We’re disappointed after every defeat. Derry are second in the table and are a serious side.
“We were competitive with them in the last two games, beating them and getting a draw in Derry, but it was the manner of the goals we let in that was disappointing the last night.
“Derry are pushing on to win the League and we just have to move on from it. Derry are in the position they are for a reason; they’re a full-time outfit competing to win the League.
“You get punished so hard for mistakes at this level and Derry really punished us that night. You just have to concentrate for the full 90 minutes. That’s maybe where we’ve fallen down of late, but it’s been great, the challenge of playing in the Premier Division.”[adrotate group=”70″]
The fine margins are evident in this division. A few short weeks ago, new assistant manager Paul Hegarty had urged the squad to think about aiming higher in the standings, but now they’re back to attempting to steer clear of the quick sand again.
Cowan says: “This is a challenge, but it’s a challenge that we wanted. Had we been given this position at the start of the season, we’d have taken it for sure.
“It will be a push. Have we the bottle? That remains to be seen, but we have a lot of quality in that dressing room and we won’t lie down.”Tags: