pAUL McVeigh’s goal for Finn Harps against Limerick FC nine days ago brought with it the loudest cheer heard at Finn Park all season.
Peter Hutton’s spirited side produced their best home performance of the season against the league leaders; a side that, with their considerable financial backing, operate in a different stratosphere to the Ballybofey club. So much so, the Harps player-manager refereed to the Shannonsiders as the “Man City of the First Division.”
However, football is 11 against 11 and last Saturday night, Harps’
supporters walked down Navenny Street more than satisfied as dusk fell. Of course the match finished in a 1-1 draw but after winning at fellow promotion hopefuls Longford Town and drawing at Waterford United, it stretched Harps’ unbeaten run to seven matches.
“Things are going good now,” goalscorer McVeigh said. “We’re on a good wee run now, seven games unbeaten so let’s hope we can keep that going. They’re all big games and all we can do as a squad is take each one as it comes and concentrate on that. Waterford had won eight in succession and we drew with them down there and winning in Longford was a great result.”
Last Saturday, Limerick were second best in a decent first half but two minutes before half-time went in front in slightly fortuitous circumstances. Thomas McMonagle was somewhat harshly penalised for climbing on Dominic Foley when many felt the Limerick striker had cutely backed in.
And from the resultant free-kick, Simon Tracy’s effort took a huge deflection to wrong-foot Ciaran Gallagher for the opening goal.
However, 19 minutes from time, following good approach play from James Doherty, McVeigh tucked past Barry Ryan.
“Limerick are a very good team but I thought we really put it up to them and worked hard for each other last week,” McVeigh said. “If you work hard enough anything can happen and we deserved our draw on the night. It was a fair result. We dominated the first half but in fairness to them they came back into it in the second half.
“You have to give credit to Peter Hutton and Séan McGowan. They’ve got everyone working together and there’s a good buzz in the dressing room. Confidence is a huge thing and we’re not afraid to meet any team at the minute. If we can go out with that mentality and work hard then we’ll always have a chance. Hopefully we can keep this continuing until the end of the season.”
Twenty-year-old McVeigh from Portsalon was an Ulster Senior League winner last term with Fanad United, where he had come up through the ranks of the club and indeed county and country.
He played for the Republic of Ireland U-17 Emerging Talent team in the Netherlands and this summer, he was part of the Letterkenny Institute of Technology side the represented Ireland at the European University Games Tournament in Cordoba, Spain, lining out on the right wing in sweltering heat.
“I was lucky to be born in an area with a good footballing side,” he said. “Fanad always encourage you to get involved. I was asked by Patrick Coll would I be interested in going to Harps for pre-season to see what Felix Healy thought of me.”
McVeigh certainly did enough to impress Healy in the spring but played precious few times under the former Derry City manager, lining out against the Mayo League in the EA Sports Cup in March. However, when Healy opted to leave Hutton in sole command, McVeigh’s opportunities have broadened and the LYIT Sports and Business student has grasped the opportunity with both hands.
Hutton may have thought he was handed something of a poisoned chalice to begin with. On taking charge, he was without Kevin McHugh and Adam Clarke, both of whom were suspended having been sent off in Healy’s last match at Wexford. As well as that, Stephen O’Donnell, Blain Curtis and Hugh Carlin’s seasons had concluded, all three suffering with cruciate injuries.
At the time Hutton joked that Spain, with their 4-6-0 formation that so comprehensively won Euro 2012, were modelling their shape on his team. McVeigh, comfortable wide or up front, had the daunting task of leading the line alone in the FAI Cup fixture against Derry City in the Brandywell.
“We lost 4-0 but I was delighted to get a run in the team,” he said.
“Peter gave me my chance up front on my own. Kevin McHugh came back then and I’ve been playing alongside him of late. He’s so experienced and has done it all so he’s a great person to learn off. He’s a great help.
“We play a lot of small sided games at training and with someone like Peter, who knows the game inside out, we’re encouraged to play football. All I want to do is keep the head down and keep progressing.”
Two goals against Mervue United in a 3-2 win last month in Ballybofey endeared McVeigh to those on the terraces. And since he has bedded into the team, Harps have yet to lose. Last weekend’s draw edged Harps into fourth position in the First Division, but with third placed Waterford 15 points ahead with only six games to play, remaining there is the target between now and the end of the season.
“We want to keep this run going and finish out the season on a high,”
McVeigh added. “We’ve a decent young squad and everyone is eager to do well. We’re prepared to work hard and everyone is enjoying themselves.”
Harps’ next fixture is this coming Saturday away to Mervue. With the run they’re on there’s reasons for optimism for the future. And with young men like McVeigh fitting in well to Hutton’s progressive side, there’s even more reason to be encouraged.