Limerick FC are in the driving seat for top honours in the Airtricity League First Division and their point against Finn Harps guarantees them a play-off spot at the very worst.
Finn Harps 1
Limerick FC 1
But that doesn’t begin to tell the story of a game in which Peter Hutton’s stamp on proceedings since taking sole charge at Finn Park begins to shine ever brighter. Of course it was only a draw, but with Limerick, as the Harps manager said this week “a Premier Division club in waiting,” there were hugely encouraging factors for the home crowd of 439 to dig their teeth into.
For the first time in a long time there was an atmosphere on Navenny Street, as the team’s followers responded to what was on offer for their team. The bean counters will always yearn for more coming through the turnstiles at Finn Park but if the showing of Saturday can be replicated in the coming weeks then the attendance levels will take care of themselves.
It was a battling performance from Harps, who mixed it with plentiful patches of good football against a team who had a single substitute taking home more in a week than the entire home squad.
Limerick’s Shane Tracy scored the opening goal in fortuitous fashion two minutes shy of the interval when his free-kick took a huge deflection off the unfortunate Aaron O’Hagan in the wall to wrong-foot Ciaran Gallagher in the Harps goal
It was an undeserved slice of bad luck for the hosts. The Ballybofey side went into the match on the back of a six-game unbeaten run that stretched back to June and their first half performance was arguably as good as anything they’ve produced all season, especially when considering the lofty status of the opposition.
Rather peculiarly, at a stage in part two when Limerick appeared to be as comfortable as one can be with a one-goal lead, Paul McVeigh stabbed past Barry Ryan from six yards 0ut following James Doherty’s inviting centre on 73 minutes.
The hosts opened much the brighter in a reasonably entertaining first
45 minutes. Limerick had Robert Kluciar to thank for a last ditch challenge to deny McVeigh moments after the lively Harps frontman was narrowly off the mark with a volley.
Limerick were slow to start but as they felt their way into the match, they shrieked for a penalty when Gallagher in the Harps goal went to ground as Sean Brosnan snuck in late and was felled. However, match referee Ray Matthews merely shook his head and signalled for play to continue.
Just as the kettles were coming to the boil as the first half drew to a close with stalemate expected to continue, Tracy’s goal edged Limerick in front for the first time. It looked as though it was going to be one of those nights.
Brosnan went close twice at the start of the second half. First, Gallagher did well to turn his drive around the post in a crowded penalty area and from the resultant corner, which was devilishly delivered by Tracy, the visiting midfielder headed just wide. Moments later, though, Brosnan was lucky to remain on the pitch when he went in with two feet up on Doherty.
Limerick appeared to look that little bit more in control of the situation after the break but McVeigh’s equaliser breathed life into the home support. It was just reward for the frontman who had certainly been the liveliest player on the pitch all evening and really looking at home alongside Kevin McHugh up top of the home side.
Both teams maintained their shape and neither party had any clear-cut chance to win the game and a point apiece was perhaps a fair reflection of proceedings. Hutton might’ve even felt that it was his team that edged it but he can be content with the evening’s work, just as the club’s followers can be content with his.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; James Doherty, Thomas McMonagle, Keith Cowan, Ciaran Coll (Mark Scoltock 66); Gary Merritt (Adam Clarke 66), Aaron O’Hagan, Shaun McGowan, Paul McVeigh; Matthew Harkin, Kevin McHugh.
Limerick FC: Barry Ryan; Shaun Kelly, Robert Kluciar, Pat Purcell, Shane Tracy; Jeffrey Judge (Stephen Bradley 83), Joe Gamble, Sean Brosnan, Corie Treacy; Dom Foley (Denis Behan 85), Rory Gaffney.
Referee: Ray Matthews