THE EUPHORIA of winning promotion in November didn’t take long to subside for the Finn Harps manager, Ollie Horgan.
Finn Park was electrified when BJ Banda’s magical intervention headed Harps to an extra time play-off win over Limerick FC.
The goal catapulted Harps into the top flight for the first time since 2008.
Horgan says he has never watched the re-run of Banda’s goal, which has been on a loop on the mobile devices of supporters ever since the Royal and Prior student glanced Damien McNulty’s cross past Freddy Hall.
When the League of Ireland’s Premier Division fixture list was released in mid-December for the new season, it laid bare the challenge facing Horgan’s Harps.
Derry City, Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers provide the opposition in the first four games of the season.
“If we pick up no points, how exciting will it be then,” Horgan says.
“That’s the difficult that is ahead of us. If we lose to Derry, where are we?
“It is a savage task for us. It is a brutal, mental start for us. Where do our first points come from?”
Horgan has been given a boost with confirmation that Kevin McHugh, Gareth Harkin and Michael Funston – who all expected to be serving suspensions – will be available for the Derry game.
A rule change at a recent FAI EGM means that the trio are cleared to face the Candystripes.
It is a game that opens the season in style for Harps, who will host a 4,500 capacity crowd at Finn Park and it is also a fixture that many see as Harps’ best shot at picking up points in the opening handful.
Horgan says: “It’s important to get a result any night. Of course it’s important to get something on Friday.
“If we win on Friday we’ll get a huge crowd again for the game against Shamrock Rovers, but if we lose it the crowd will go down again.”
In 2005, when Harps began life in the Premier Division as the previous season’s First Division champions, they took just two draws from their opening eight matches.
An eight-point deduction for Shamrock Rovers, because of financial irregularities, wasn’t even enough to lift Harps, who finished six points adrift of the penalised Rovers at season’s end.
Paul Hegarty’s Harps made a slightly better fist of things in 2008, but – even after taking two wins and two draws from that first 11 games – they were relegated at the first attempt.
Horgan insists that staying up would represent a greater achievement than winning promotion last season and his comments aren’t without foundation.
Harps are working off a shoestring budget that is well below their competitors and Horgan also has to battle geography in his attempts to lure players to Finn Park.
“Make no bones about it, from the Monday after we got promoted until this week, no it wasn’t enjoyable,” the Harps manager says of his struggles in the transfer market.
He thought long and hard about adding an extra night of training to their weekly schedule, but decided against that option.
“We are doing longer sessions now as against doing an extra night,” he says.
“The onus is on the players to do the work on their own. Stuff like the gym sessions, it’s up to them on their days off.”
Horgan’s frustrations increased with a disrupted pre-season campaign.
He says: “It’s hard to know what the best eleven is at the minute because pre-season was so disrupted. We are going in a little bit on what players may have done before, which is probably a bit unfair.
“The team that plays on Friday might never play again. It’s a bit of a risk.”
Horgan has managed to add ten new faces to his squad, including this week’s addition of former Derry City captain Barry Molloy, who adds considerable quality and experience.”
Richard Brush, Ryan McConnell, Ethan Boyle, Liam Flatley, Sean Houston, Adam Hanlon, Michael Rafter, Dave Scully and Ryan Curran have been added to a panel from which Wilfried Tagbo is the only regular from last season to have departed.
Horgan says: “We have plenty to pick from and it’s good, as a manager, to have choices.”Tags: