Finn Harps manager Peter Hutton believes his chances of adding to his squad in the close season are being hampered by Ulster Senior League clubs paying players.
Harps begin pre-season on Saturday in Raphoe, one of a host of venues around the county they plan to use for training in the coming weeks. Hutton and the club’s director of football Felix Healy will have nine players already re-signed from last season, players from the club’s U-19 squad, the returning Chris Breen from Limerick FC and a number of triallists present ahead of the countdown to the new season.
However, according to Hutton, talks with a handful of potential new players have hit a brick will due to better money being offered in the Ulster Senior League and players being unrealistic in their estimations of Harps.
Over the close season, the Ballybofey club were saved from extinction after a large fundraising drive that recouped the €48,000 debts accrued from last season. Donegal County Council gave €20,000 of that figure to ensure Harps will obtain a First Division playing licence for the season ahead. As a consequence the club’s officials and management are understandably unwilling to delve the club into further debt and a strict budget has been put in place.
“We have been in contact with numerous players over the last few weeks and some of them must think Finn Harps are loaded,” Hutton said yesterday. “Some of the demands we have got are extortionate and from our point of view we have to be realistic as we do not want to put the club in jeopardy.
“The vast majority of the players we have spoken to are with Ulster Senior League clubs and although there’s loads of potential in that league and indeed in Donegal as a whole, some of the expectations and demands are way off the mark. That’s unfortunate.
“We have a licensing criteria to abide by and a strict budget in place to safeguard the club but some Ulster Senior League clubs can offer players more than us, which makes things difficult for us when trying to deal with players.
“When Felix and I took over here last year we understood the need to look to the future. We saw it as a three-year plan and we know it is necessary to bleed in some younger players with some of the reliable pros, who we have re-signed.”
Harps have already re-signed Tommy Bonner, James Doherty, Ciaran Coll, Keith Cowan, Ciaran Gallagher, Kevin McHugh, Barry O’Mahony, Blain Curtis and Stephen O’Donnell, while Breen is back at the club from Limerick FC. Another local from the Twin Towns, Shaun McGowan, who left almost two years ago and has been playing for Kildrum Tigers, might be joining him back at Finn Park.
“I don’t think it’s any secret we are in talks with Shaun over a possible return to the club,” Hutton added. “He’s realistic and knows exactly what the club can offer him. Shaun is Finn Harps to the bone and is a player who did very well here before when he was working for Felix so we’ll see how the talks go.
“There also will be three of four players joining us for pre-season and in that timeframe we will be taking a good look at them and they can look at us to see what we are trying to do.”
Hutton confirmed Harps will play six or seven pre-season friendlies before the Airtricity League Firist Division kicks off in early March. The first of those fixtures will be away to Limavady United on Tuesday, January 24, at 7:45pm.
“We’ve been talking to a few teams about getting friendlies lined up,” he said. “The one thing we don’t want at this time of year is a game getting called off at the last minute due to the weather so that’s something we are factoring in. We’ll be playing likes of Crusaders and Cliftonville, whenever their calendar suits as they are in the middle of their league season, and Dundalk. All of those clubs have 3G pitches.”