Finn Harps will use their remaining pre-season outings to mould the team that will start in the Airtricity League First Division opener in Limerick next month.
The Ballybofey side, after going down to Limavady United and Derry City, lost 1-0 to Crusaders in their third pre-season outing having gone down to a goal from Alan Harris on the hour mark.
Director of football Felix Healy and manager Peter Hutton played a young and experimental team, which had Ciaran Coll at centre-half and Aaron O’Hagan anchoring midfield. Full-back James Doherty made a welcome first appearance of the New Year having been laid down with a virus. A 22-year-old trialist goalkeeper Paul Simon Treacy, who was on the books of Derry City, was part of the squad.
Stephen O’Donnell missed the match with a briused foot and Keith Cowan with a slight hamstraing complaint. Another one of the more experienced players, Tommy Bonner, missed out with an Achilles problem. All three are expected to be available this Sunday, when Harps take on Dundalk at Oriel Park, but Chris Breen’s shoulder injury will keep him out.
“I thought we played really well,” Healy said after the Crusaders fixture. “We lifted it to another level from the week before. We should’ve won the game but at this time of year it’s all about practice.
“One thing we noticed is we have a small squad and that wasn’t helped by the injuries to the likes of Stephen, Keith and Tommy. And it was great to see Doc (James Doherty) back. He’s had a rough time of it over the last three to fours weeks and still has a lot to do but it was good to see him back.
“Aaron O’Hagan in midfield is something we want to look at as he has the ability to play where and is sometimes wasted at centre-half. He’s done better in some games than others but is a good player but a young one so we sill give him the chance in the position.
“We tried Ciaran Coll at centre-back because it’s a position he can play and he’s done great work during pre-season. On the flip-side of that there’s a few players with a bit of work to do.”
Dundalk are the opponents this Sunday at 2pm, while Dergview visit Finn Park on Tuesday at 7.30pm, before Harps round-off pre-season with games against Inishowen sides. On Friday, February 24, Harps host Cockhill Celtic at Finn Park and two days later, they will face Buncrana Hearts, kick-off 2pm. The season opens against Division One favourites Limerick on Friday, March 2, at Jackman Park.
“Peter and I know about eight or nine of the team we expect, injuries permitting of course, against Limerick when the season opens,” Healy added. “Whereas we have tried to used use the first three games of pre-season solely for the purpose of fitness, from here on in we will be trying to win the actual football matches. Against Dundalk we’ll start moving in that direction.”
Harps (v Crusaders): Ciaran Gallagher; Paul McVeigh, Ciaran Coll, Tommy McMonagle, Ciaran Greene; Gary Merritt, Aaron O’Hagan, Hugh Carlin, Adam Clarke; Blain Curtis, Kevin McHugh. Subs: Shaun Patton, Paul Simon Tracy, Shane McGinty, James Doherty.