Finn Harps’ recent improvements will be tested come Friday night when they take on promotion hopefuls Cork City at Turner’s Cross on Friday night (kick-off 7.45pm).
The size of that task will be heightened somewhat with the enforced absence of captain and top-scorer Kevin McHugh, who limped off at half-time in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Salthill Devon having picked up a calf injury, which is a complaint his strike partner Mark McGoldrick was also suffering from this week.
By his own admission, Stephen O’Donnell wasn’t best pleased when first informed he would have to vacate his position in midfield to play up front but within eight minutes he had headed the opening goal from Kevin Devaney’s free-kick. O’Donnell rounded off a fine move two minutes from time to seal the win. As well as his brace, former Sligo Rovers midfielder contributed much else aside.
“That’s one of the advantages of having a player like Stephen,” manager Peter Hutton said yesterday. “He’s comfortable either in midfield or up top and he took his two goals very well. If anything, he was a little disappointed at not getting a hat-trick but he had a good game.”
Although Salthill, managed by former Harps striker Paul McGee, are rooted to the bottom of the table there were a number of positives to be taken from the game.
A clean sheet, which was Ciaran Gallagher’s fourth on the bounce and fifth in six, means Denis Behan for Limerick FC, 390 minutes ago in playing terms, was the last time Harps conceded.
As well as that, Packie Mailey, Gareth Harkin and Blaine Curtis were all suspended for the match and will return against Cork, as could Martin Redmond, who was given leave to move to Dublin to college.
Conor O’Grady, who had played 70 minutes in the 3-1 friendly win over Irish League outfit Institute last Wednesday, also got his first taste of league action under the new management team of Hutton and director of football Felix Healy after an ankle surgery had kept him sidelined since April.
“Conor got a run against Institute and we were glad to get him 20 minutes or so against Salthill,” Hutton added. “His hamstrings felt a little tight, which is totally understandable considering he’s been out for so long but the ankle is doing fine. We will continue to give him time to get over the injury. Mark McGoldrick will be assessed at training before Friday but it looks like we will have to plan without Kevin McHugh. James Doherty also picked up a thigh injury against Institute and will be out for a couple of weeks.
“Defensively, we’ve improved a good bit of late and that’s down to people taking responsibility and we are playing better as a unit. We want players to build better relationships in their part of the field and would also like to take some of the pressure off the front players with more defenders and midfielders chipping in with goals. We’re a work in progress but we are reasonably so satisfied with the progress so far. But Cork will be a massive challenge.”
Harps’ lost trip to Leeside is one best forgotten, when James Gallagher’s side were hammered 5-0, with Graham Cummins scoring a hat-trick and Davin O’Neill and Vincent Escudé-Candau were also on target. In the return match at Finn Park in early July, Shane Duggan netted two second half goals in a 2-0 away win.
Greg O’Halloran is getting over a bout of food poisoning this week, while Stephen Mulcahy remains a long-term injury, and although Tommy Dunne spoke’s side went out of both domestic cups in the last fortnight promotion remains their aim.
They are currently in third place, on 54 points, one behind Monaghan United so the fall-out from Harps’ unintentional playing of the suspended Aaron O’Hagan against Roddy Collins’ side, who were awarded a 3-0 win after the match finished goalless at Finn Park, might yet having a ripple effect come the season’s end.
“Cork, for me, are a Premier Division side and if they get up they could go on a run like Derry City are at the minute,” said Brandywell favourite Hutton. “We were not in charge the last time the lads went to Turner’s Cross but by all accounts they didn’t start too badly but the heads went down after the conceded the first goal and Cork ran out easy winners in the end. We know it’ll be a very difficult game but the way I see it, we’ve nothing to lose. We’re trying to get things in order for next season and are quietly confident going into the game.”