FINN HARPS director of football could hardly hide his displeasure as his side slumped to a third successive defeat in the Airtricity League First Division, this time against Athlone Town.
Finn Harps 1
Athlone Town 2
The Ballybofey side were all at sea as they tried to defend deadballs and the midlanders profited with two goals, with Stephen Relihan and Brian McCarthy on the mark either side of Kevin McHugh’s equaliser. Healy express his disappoinment after a week when the squad found it hard to lift themselves.
“The guys were flat in training this week following the last two games and they were flat again tonight,” Healy said. “Athlone had a wee bit more hunger and desire than us tonight, which was the case at Mervue last week.
“The annoying things is that we conceded two goals again from two corners and that’s been our problem all year. In defence of the players, when you’re a bit flat and you go one behind from a corner, it’s very difficult for people to lift themselves after that. Every time they got a corner tonight they looked like they were going to score and when that’s running through any team it’s very difficult.
“We possibly made too many changes tonight but with what happened last week a number of guys were anxious to get in and play, but there wasn’t enough hunger displayed by everybody tonight.
“When you win two or three games the confidence, belief and everything else goes up an awful lot. When you lose two or three the confidence starts to seep away. But to concede two goals tonight from two corners is diabolical.”
A controversial first half goal from Relihan gave Athlone the lead and although McHugh levelled for the home team, McCarthy was on hand to head a winning goal for the away team. Midfielder Relihan poked home a scrappy opening goal on 28 minutes as the Harps defence failed to clear a corner from Garbhan Broughall but the bone of contention from the Twin Towns outfit was the awarding of the corner.
Referee Conor Fitzgerald seemed to be the only man in the ground who thought a defender had headed a Broughall free wide when McCarthy missed the target with a cleanly won header. After their 3-1 reversal against Limerick FC and the 3-0 loss at the hands of Mervue United some eight nights’ beforehand, Harps director of football Healy had promised to ring the changes and made five alterations.
Out went James Doherty, player-manager Peter Hutton, Paul Simon Treacy, Blain Curtis and Adam Clarke and in came Tommy Bonner, Ciaran Greene, Aaron O’Hagan, Hugh Carlin and Gary Merritt. Harps’ plans, though, were disrupted when Carlin hobbled off inside of 10 minutes and was replaced by Curtis.
Despite that, the hosts started reasonably well. A superbly executed dipping volley from Shane McGinty was the closest either team came to an early opening goal, only for Patrick Jennings to tip the ball over whilst stretching backwards. Substitute Curtis, within a minute of Athlone’s opener, spurned a good chance when he scampered away only to see his shot on goal strike the outside of the post.
There was an air of uncertainty in the home defence in Hutton’s absence as the second half began. Relihan came through a pack of players to get the touch only for Rory Kelly in the Harps goal to save, before McHugh restored parity. The Harps captain sneaked in between the central defensive pairing of Tommy Barrett and McCarthy and rolled home five minutes after the restart.
However, McCarthy made up for the misdemeanour on 62 minutes when he headed somewhat unconventionally home. Following another corner from Broughall, the centre-half rose well but headed into the ground. None of the home defenders or goalkeeper put their name on the ball and it sneaked over the line.
Shaun McGowan wasn’t far from a second leveller but his shot flew just wide of the post in a packed penalty area at the Town End goal. But that was as close as they came in an ultimately poor game as Athlone, through two scrappy goals, held on for a useful away win.
“I’ve said to the boys that you’ll not win too many games in this league, or any other league, if you concede goals from set-pieces or you look like conceding every time the opposition get a corner,” Healy added. It deflates confidence and people get nervous. It takes away from everything good you might’ve done.
Finn Harps: Rory Kelly; Tommy Bonner, Aaron O’Hagan, Thomas McMonagle, Ciaran Greene; Gary Merritt, Hugh Carlin (Blain Curtis 10), Shaun McGowan, Ciaran Coll (Paul Simon Treacy 70); Shane McGinty, Kevin McHugh.
Athlone Town: Pat Jennings; Niall Scullion, Tommy Barrett, Brian McCarthy, Ross Kenny; Garbhan Broughall, Stephen Relihan, Damien Rushe (Darren Coleman 71), Jason Hughes; Brian Gill (Kevin Williamson 86), Noel McGee (Sean Geurins 75).
Referee: Conor Fitzgerald.