Finn Harps will have to plan without Keith Cowan although can welcome Stephen O’Donnell back for their first home game of the new season against Mervue United on Saturday (kick-off 7.45pm).
Central defender Cowan, who won the Ballybofey club’s player of the year award last season, was taken off at half-time during Harps’ 2-1 loss against Limerick FC on Friday night and it was later learned he will miss six to eight weeks with a hairline fracture of the ankle.
“It was bitterly disappointing news for us as a team and Keith as an individual,” manager Peter Hutton said this week. “Keith did a lot of work in the close and pre-season and was good last season so it’s a disappointing way to start for him.
“We moved Aaron O’Hagan in there against Limerick and he did exceptionally well so we’ll have a look at training on Thursday night. We’d like to keep switches at a minimum and someone like Ciaran Coll could also fit in.”
On the plus side, O’Donnell is available again having learned late last week he would in fact miss the outing against Limerick after he was reprimanded by the FAI’s disciplinary committee amassed four bookings last season.
Hutton, who was banned from the touchline last weekend after being dismissed at Shelborne last October, is free to take his place on the bench on Saturday.
And from his more familiar vantage position on Saturday would like to continue some of the positives from Jackman Park, albeit in defeat. Goals from Paudie Quinn and Rory Gaffney made sure Adam Clarke’s long range strike wasn’t enough for a point.
“We finished much stronger than Limerick and that was down to fitness,” Hutton added. “If we were guilty of anything it was of showing too much respect for them. We might’ve feared the worst but in the second half were exceptional.”
Mervue, like Harps, are looking to get off the mark. Longford Town substitute Gary Shaw came off the bench just after the break to head home the only goal of a poor game on his debut for Tony Cousins’ side with 17 minutes remaining at Fahy’s Field on Friday night.
However, suspended trio Alan Murphy, Jason Molloy and Stephen Walsh are all back to make debuts. Martin Conneely and Marc Ludden had groin injuries that ruled them out last weekend.
Johnny Glynn’s squad travelled to England for a four-day training break in pre-season, playing a Reading XI, going down by four goals to nil last month.
“Getting away like that can build up team spirit and shows how serious they took their pre-season,” Hutton said. “Mervue have strengthened from last season and they’ve been a side known to be a little physical, but also one that relies on being fit and having a good work ethic. They’ll be looking to get off the mark after last weekend’s defeat but we’re in the exact same situation ourselves.
Hutton also confirmed the Finn Park pitch has been widened ahead of the match as he and director of football Felix Healy will continue their team to play attractive football.
“Previous managers have taken the pitch in but we think that’s a destructive tactic,” Hutton added. “That’s a negative mindset and we’ve taken a more pro-active step of concentrating on ourselves as we want to try and encourage our players to play open and expansive football.”