Finn Harps renew old rivalries with Cobh Ramblers in their first home outing of the fledgling Airtricity League of Ireland First Division campaign on Friday night (kick-off 8pm).
The Ballybofey side opened with an encouraging 1-1 draw against Waterford United at the RSC last Friday night thanks Sean McCarron’s last minute goal. Even after that, Thomas McBride saw red for a foul on Francis Rockett.
And although Peter Hutton maintained the need to minimise the disciplinary issues this term, the Harps manager did have sympathy for his midfielder. McBride will consequently miss Friday’s outing against Cobh due to an automatic one-match suspension, with any further absences pending the outcome of an appeal made by Harps.
“We’re still waiting on the official word,” Hutton said on Wednesday evening of the appeal. “There was a recording of the match being sent up from Waterford so that might help our case as, to be fair, it seemed an extremely harsh decision to send Thomas off last week. He’s been exceptional all pre-season and I didn’t see it as a two-footed challenge.
“Thomas made a genuine attempt and played the ball. The Waterford player didn’t go down, there was no medical attention and no appeal from any of their players. Their management also felt it was a harsh decision so we decided to appeal.”
During the match itself, following a fine pre-season that saw them only lose once, Harps were slow starters with Ben Ryan firing the hosts in front. However, at half-time, Hutton introduced McCarron for Aaron O’Hagan and went from a 4-3-3 to 4-4-2. McCarron’s equaliser was late but Harps almost won it then when Kevin McHugh then struck the post from a free-kick.
“We were nervous to start off with and not at our best,” Hutton said. “But we made a tactical alteration at half-time and took on Sean McCarron and were a much better looking side in the second half. We certainly deserved our point and could’ve even nicked it right at the very end.”
James Doherty was dismissed on the last day of last season against Longford Town for a bit of histrionics in the penalty box, something his manager dubbed a “Suarez” at the time. Doherty, though, was suspended for the RSC fixture last weekend as the ban spilled over. He is available for selection now.
Therefore, bar McBride, Harps’ only other absentees are their three cruciate victims from last season – Stephen O’Donnell, Blaine Curtis and Hugh Carlin – and Ciaran Coll, who underwent surgery last week in Belfast on a knee injury sustained in pre-season.
Harps and Cobh battled it out for the 2007 First Division championship with the Cork side eventually winning the title on the last day of the season. Both parties were still reasonably content with getting promotion alongside one another but came straight back to earth 12 months later when they were relegated.
But while Harps struggled on, Cobh were in 2009 denied a licence to the League of Ireland and have been undertaking a four-year hiatus into the A Championship since.
However, they marked their re-admittance to the league with a bang last weekend by hammering Wexford Youths 5-0, with the goals coming from Conor Meade’s brace and one apiece from Alan O’Flynn, Martin Deady and Jonathan Spillane. Dave Hill’s side also possess Davin O’Neill, a consistent goalscorer at this level for quite some time.
“Cobh are coming here confident but as far as we’re concerned if we don’t get a result it will negate the good performance we had in Waterford last week,” Hutton said of Friday’s encounter.
“I know people have talked about them coming into the league again and struggling but I think they’ll be something of a dark horse over the course of the season. They had a great win over Wexford last weekend but we’re looking forward to our first home game and let’s hope we can get a good crowd and follow-up last week’s good result.”