Finn Harps sealed a place in the semi-finals of FAI Cup for the first time in 15 years with an emphatic win over Avondale United at Finn Park on Wednesday night.
Finn Harps 4
Avondale United 1
Ollie Horgan’s team will learn their fate on Monday, with SSE Airtricity League Premier Division Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and St Patrick’s Athletic the other teams in the hat.
Goals from Gareth Harkin, Damien McNulty and a Kevin McHugh brace sealed Harps’ passage in the quarter-final replay, thus erasing the memories of 12 months ago. Last season Peter Hutton’s side were cruelly denied a place in the semi-finals by a late Drogheda United leveller. The Co Louth side ran out 2-0 winners in the replay at United Park.
Munster Senior League Avondale, who have won the last four FAI Intermediate Cups, lost goalkeeper Danny O’Leary to a red card on 65 minutes when he was adjudged to have taken down Harkin after a torrid backpass from Mark Horgan. They were already three down at the time.
Player-manager Dave O’Keeffe was the listed substitute goalkeeper and he had no time whatsoever to warm-up before McHugh planted Harps’ fourth goal from the spot to the delight of the 793 in attendance.
Roy Long scored a late consolation five minutes from time for the visitors when he touched home a driven cross from Kelvin Connolly.
But that did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the Harps support, who last saw their team in the semi-finals of the competition when they defeated Galway United at Terryland Park in 1999. That year, of course, the Ballybofey side and Bray Wanderers went to a second replayed final before a 2-1 defeat for Charlie McGeever’s team at Tolka Park.
Harkin, on 11 minutes, prodded his side in front following an excellent cross from the right by Brian McGroary. It was brave from Harkin as he would no doubt have seen O’Leary, the Avondale goalkeeper, charging from his line out the corner of his eye.
Avondale’s Graham McCarthy had a 19th minute shot blocked by Packie Mailey and when the ball fell back to the midfielder, he dragged his second shot wide of the upright. That came after Ray Lally had earlier tested Conor Winn, who was forced to turn an early shot around the post.
McGroary then fizzed a shot just wide of O’Leary’s goal. It was one of those efforts that caused a collective, sharp gasp – not least from the visiting goalkeeper, who was glad to see his sheet not dirtied further.
Former Derry City winger McGroary, who had been playing ahead of Kevin McHugh in a 3-4-3 formation, cut a frustrated figure moments later when he hobbled off with an apparent hamstring injury to be replaced by Pat McCann.
Ironically, Harps only had 10 men on the field as they hurriedly readied McCann, when McNulty slotted home the second goal. Harkin, who was later named as man of the match, splendidly held onto possession as three Avondale players swarmed around him in midfield and found McHugh in space.
The Harps skipper, cutting in from the left on his right foot, might’ve opened his body out to try a curler into the bottom corner but instead rolled a delicate ball that dissected the backpedalling defence and McNulty side-footed home first time.
A minute before half-time it was almost three when Harps’ No 3, Ciaran Coll, got in behind and his shot, more across goal perhaps than at it, was blocked by David Spratt.
The sides shared a 1-1 draw in Carrigaline on Sunday afternoon when Michael Funston’s goal was cancelled out 13 minutes by Danny Long.
Any chance of Avondale had of extending the tie further depended on them getting back into the game and getting back into the game fast. Daniel Long curled a delicate effort not far over Winn’s angle of post and crossbar moments after the restart.
When that chance came and went, so too did whatever lingering chance there was of an upset. McHugh, on the hour-mark, scored from the edge of the six-yard box when O’Leary stopped Harkin’s initial effort. The Avondale netminder might’ve got the decisive touch as McHugh’s rebounded attempt spun off the crossbar. Either way, it was McHugh’s goal.
Whatever sense of misfortune O’Leary might’ve had was deepened when Horgan effectively sold him down the river with an overcooked backpass three minutes later. Referee Ray Matthews was quick to dismiss O’Leary, who appeared to hook the ball. McHugh put the penalty to O’Keeffe’s right.
And despite the late Avondale goal, it’s Harps who can now look forward - albeit as huge underdogs - to a financially rewarding and a huge occasion in the semi-finals, which will be played on the weekend of October 5.
Finn Harps: Conor Winn; Keith Cowan, Packie Mailey, Thomas McMonagle; Damien McNulty, Michael Funston (Ger O’Callaghan 69), Josh Mailey, Gareth Harkin, Ciaran Coll; Brian McGroary (Pat McCann 38); Kevin McHugh (Carel Tiofak 76).
Avondale United: Danny O’Leary; Mark Horgan, Michael Mulconry, David Spratt (Dave Kiely 76); Greg Kelly, Graham McCarthy, Kenny Murphy, Ray Lally; Dave Warren (Kevin Connolly 62); Roy Long, Danny Long (Dave O’Keeffe 64).
Referee: Ray Matthews.