Fans of Finn Harps always have more than a passing interest in the form of their two north west neighbours, Derry City and Sligo Rovers, each season.
This year, while Harps have been flying high in Division One, Derry and Sligo have been struggling for form in the top division and amazingly, both clubs are already facing a battle to avoid the drop.
While the most hardened Harps supporter might have little sympathy for either club, the dire situation at Sligo is likely to have a telling impact on Harps’ chances of gaining promotion from Division One.
Had Sligo Rovers, in their first year under Owen Heary, been challenging near the top end of the Premier Division, would there have been any need for them to recall Ruairí Keating and Regan Donelon back from their loan spell at Finn Park?
But needs must and the young duo, in particular Keating, are now needed to join the crew of a ship that’s not exactly sinking, but is fast taking on water.
So where does that leave Ollie Horgan and Harps? Well they’re now preparing for the second half of the season without two players who have played a significant role in the campaign so far.
Donelon, a left sided player, was a quality addition to the panel this year and while he was never really first choice, his contribution has been important. He’s a fine player, works hard and would have seen plenty of action in the months ahead, had he been still around.
Keating too, will be a major loss. He was top goalscorer at Harps last year, even though he was there for only half a season. He has already notched five goals in this campaign, including a last gasp winner to deliver the points against Waterford last month.
He’s missed the last four games - the two cup meetings with Longford Town, and the defeats to Athlone Town and Wexford Youths in the league. His absence was perhaps most felt on Friday night when Harps played some of their best football of the season so far but still went down at home to Wexford.
Horgan does have options in attack. Kevin McHugh is playing much better this season than he has for some time. His wonder strike on Friday night was his fifth goal of the campaign. But in the games when Keating and Wilfried Tagbo were paired in attack, McHugh made his most telling impact coming off the bench and at times, playing off the front line.
Garbhan Friel’s appearances have also been mostly off the bench while last week, Oisin McMenamin rejoined the club.
Speaking after the defeat by Wexford, Horgan did his best to play down the Keating situation but did admit that he’s looking for a new striker. And this is where the situation at Derry City comes in.
It’s no secret that Derry are struggling financially and given their troubles on the pitch, there could be a chance for Horgan to benefit. Harps have been linked again with Nathan Boyle. Anthony Elding has just been released by Derry and many feel Letterkenny’s Cillian Morrison could do a job at Harps having failed to set the world alight at the Brandywell since his move from Cork.
What Horgan has been happy to admit is the fact that he’s been doing his best to strengthen his squad - not just in the front line.
At the midway point of the season, he’s content with where Harps are at. But there’s a long way to go in this campaign yet. “It’s relentless,” he offered this week. “Week in, week out.”
The defeats to Athlone and Wexford mean Harps’ lead at the top of the table is down to just a single point on Wexford and two on third placed UCD.
A few weeks back, that lead at the top was as much as seven points. And a number of observers might now be wondering if, after two league defeats on the bounce, along with the loss in the FAI Cup, the wheels have come off.
Others however, will argue that the table doesn’t lie. Harps may have enjoyed a marvellous start to the campaign and a 12-game unbeaten start. But if truth be told, they were very lucky not to lose long before they did the other week against Athlone Town.
Harps haven’t been at their best in matches, but they have been grinding out results.
The plus points far outweigh the negatives as we weigh up Harps’ situation at the mid-way point.
Horgan has delivered a much improved squad this year with Raymond Foy and Tony McNamee two excellent additions. The jury might still be out on Wilfried Tagbo’s ability to find the net, but there’s no questioning his workrate and commitment.
Ciaran Gallagher has been superb this year and Packie Mailey’s recent return from injury is also a positive.
In Mailey’s absence, Horgan has been able to call on Matty Crossan who has featured in both defence and midfield.
The one other big improvement on last year is in the area of discipline. Okay, Ollie Horgan is currently serving a touchline ban for an indiscretion down in Longford. But 14 games in and the suspensions haven’t been too severe so far. Keith Cowan, Damien McNulty and Raymond Foy have served bans, but adequate cover has always been available.
Next Friday, Harps travel to play Shelbourne and the hope is that the mid-season break will have come at a good time. Crucially, Horgan will hope to have added to his panel by then.