Finn Harps director of football Felix Healy puffed his cheeks when asked about his side’s latest defeat and questioned whether some of his players are capable of performing for the club on a consistent basis.
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Harps trailed to Conan Byrne’s opener and remained in the contest until the final 12 or so minutes but once Philip Hughes bagged a second the floodgates opened. David Cassidy added a third and for the final stages Harps were shapeless and only the final whistle saved them from further demoralisation.
With Kevin McHugh suspended, Healy started with a 4-4-2 formation with Blaine Curtis and Stephen O’Donnell up front. But when the former Kildrum Tigers player was forced off after 16 minutes with a hamstring injury the best pre-laid plans were disrupted.
“The second goal effectively killed it. I felt at 1-0 we still had a chance but overall we’re not ready for that, in terms of a Shelbourne side who are winning the league by seven points and are a very good side,” healy said. “We basically put a side out tonight for the first time and it showed. We did a lot of preparation tonight around Stevie O’Donnell playing up front and then he does his hamstring after 20 minutes, so all of that goes out the window and it becomes very difficult.”
Five minutes before half-time, Alan Mathews’ team, who had won eight from eight before their trip to Ballybofey, hit the front. A well-practiced diagonal ball from Gareth Matthews set Hughes free down the right and his centre was steered home competently by the inrushing Byrne.
Then, 12 minutes from time, Hughes found enough space on the edge of the penalty area to curl a fine second into the top corner and ensure the points would be making the journey back to Dumcondra. A third duly arrived on 84 minutes from Cassidy when he tucked home a rebound from inside the six-yard box following Ciaran Gallagher’s save from Hughes.
With John Paul Gallagher and player-manager Peter Hutton making their debuts for Harps the complexion of the back four was altered as the new regime continues to shape. But whatever about the defensive side of things, with only 14 goals from 17 outings in the league, Harps’ prospects were always going to be decreased with nine-goal McHugh suspended. Harps looked rusty.
“They are a team of seasoned campaigners whereas we are a team very much in transition, trying to play catch-up. You could see that in the last 20 minutes,” Healy added. “But Peter and I are a lot wiser than three or four months ago. It’s a challenge to the players to see if they are up for it, if they can compete at this level. Some have shown that they can and some have shown that they can’t.
“Once we went to 2-0 the organisation went out the window and we could have got beat four or five. I don’t think it was a fair reflection of the match but I was disappointed by a number of our players in the last ten to fifteen minutes.
“They just lost their way when you need to see if players are up for the fight. We’ve spoken about these things all week; it’s obvious that some of them aren’t up for the fight.” Meanwhile, Healy confirmed that a deal to try and bring two players on-loan from English side, Reading, has fallen through.
“We were hoping to get a couple of players in from Reading, one was a midfield player and one was a centre-forward, but, for a couple of different reasons that won’t materialise. There may be something that might yet happen before the transfer window closes. I was speaking to the Reading people tonight before kick-off and the players that were to be coming over weren’t costing us any money. That is the only way we can take players in at the moment.”
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Martin Redmond, Peter Hutton, Keith Cowan, John Paul Gallagher; Mark Forker, Thomas Bonner, Aaron McElwee, Ciaran Coll; Stephen O’Donnell (Gary Merritt 17), Blaine Curtis.
Shelbourne: Dean Delany; Gareth Mathews, Andrew Boyle, Ian Ryan, Lorcan Fitzgerald; Brendan McGill (Sean Byrne 74), Colm James (Kevin Dawson 82), David McGill, David Cassidy (John Sullivan 85); Conan Byrne, Philip Hughes.
Referee: Derek Tomney.