Finn Harps concluded their season on Saturday night on what was a special night for midfielder Shaun McGowan.
The 27-year-old was awarded the Crazy Gang Supporters’ Club’s Player of the Year award after the 1-0 win over Longford Town on the night his daughter Katie was the team mascot for the first time.
“It was Katie’s first time being mascot and she was there with her jersey on and really enjoyed it,” McGowan said of his little girl, who will be three in January. “She enjoyed it so much she was up first thing on Sunday morning with the jersey on her wanting to go to the match again!”
Saturday marked the end of the decent season for Harps. For a club who have had some tumultuous seasons of late, 2012 will not go down as one of them.
Felix Healy, who was the club’s director of football, resigned in May and left Peter Hutton and McGowan’s father Sean in charge.
A commendable conclusion to the season that included a 10-game unbeaten run and a fifth place finish can be considered as progression.
McGowan started the season in the colours of Ulster Senior League outfit Kildrum Tigers and was also to be seen representing his local GAA club, Séan MacCumhaill’s, before rejoining his former club on Navenny Street.
“I was delighted to get the award but for me it’s more important to get a team award,” McGowan said. “Kevin McHugh finished joint-top scorer in the division and Ciaran Coll also had a very good campaign, as did a lot of the younger players.
“I enjoyed my time with Kildrum and playing Gaelic and both were very good to me but I would consider myself a Harps man through and through so it was great to get the chance to come back to the club.”
With a young squad of locally-based players, Healy and Hutton’s team made an indifferent start to the campaign, as after 11 matches they only had 12 points. However, after the mid-season break, the team were much more consistent.
“We missed the likes of Kevin McHugh early in the season through suspension and seeing we have such a young squad, which is something I don’t want to use as an excuse, sometimes it can be hard to get out of a bad run,” McGowan said.
“But we regrouped at the break and went on a great run. All you need is to get one good result, then look for another and then another. When that happened, there’s momentum, belief and confidence. You can even see that at training and people are looking forward to the matches.
“The young players became more vocal, which is important, and we were enjoying playing football again. A few good results means you can hold your head high too if you bump into someone on the street and they ask you how you’re getting on.”
When Hutton and the bean-counters sit down and assess the season in black and white, there are number of positives that can be taken forward.
Harps, for example, picked up nine points from four outings against a Longford side that are still fighting for promotion, while they gathered four points from two visits to the RSC, the home of second-placed Waterford United.
“We managed to cope well with some of the teams at the top of the table and that’s certainly a good thing,” McGowan continued. “What we will be looking for next year is to do better against the likes, say of Wexford, whom we only drew twice with, and an Athlone Town team we beat just once.
“We also dropped points against the likes of Mervue United and SD Galway on the road but that’s forgivable for young lads visiting an away ground for the first time. Again, it’s something we will be looking to build on for sure. We all can learn from it.”
McGowan is enjoying working with Hutton, whose hands-on approach to training is appreciated. Hutton also has the countenance of a man who can walk the walk, having had such a glittering career at Derry City.
“Peter is an excellent pro and a man who is very thorough as a manager,” McGowan said of Hutton. “We train on the basis of who were are playing that particular weekend as Peter has an excellent knowledge of the other teams in the division and how they might set themselves up.
“That’s an approach that not all of us would be familiar with but it certainly helps. He joins in training and I know from playing against him what a great player he was. If any of the current Harps squad play as much senior football or win half as much as Peter, then we’ll be doing well.”
In the Finn Park tunnel on Saturday as the floodlights went out for the last time this term in Ballybofey, Hutton spoke about the progression his side had made and how looking forward they are to trying to push on again when the action resumes in March. McGowan feels the same.
“We want to be in the Premier Division,” he said. “People seen how important good preparations are when the Donegal team won the All-Ireland last month and we want to learn from that.
“Come January, we plan to be returning to pre-season fit, not to get fit.
“That means we can do a bit of fine tuning and when we do get underway, we would love to hit the ground running. We’ve set standards for oursevles of late and we want to continue them next season.”