Tough start to the new season for Harps

Finn Harps have been handed a tough start to the upcoming season with the news that they have three away trips in the first four outings.

Finn Harps have been handed a tough start to the upcoming season with the news that they have three away trips in the first four outings.

The Ballybofey side have to make the long treks to Cork City, Dublin to face Shelbourne at Tolka Park and then Waterford United in the first month - journeys that are bound to provide something of pinch in these tough financial times at the club, with 2007 Premier Division champions Drogheda United the only visitors to the Twin Towns in March.

In arguably one of the most competitive ever divisions, Harps must play Cork, Shelbourne, Waterford, Monaghan United, Athlone Town and Salthill Devon twice away from home and just once at Finn Park. The opposite is the case for Drogheda, Mervue United, Longford Town, Wexford Youths and Limerick City.

In fact, the First Division is so scattered, the closest thing that Harps have to a local derby is expected to be Monaghan, which is a 122-mile round-trip. It remains to be seen whether or not the side managed by Mick Cooke, who last the promotion-relegation play-off last season to Bray Wanderers on penalties will be in the second flight at all.

With the continued monetary problems at both Bohemians and Galway United in the Premier Division, there may be a shake-up when the league licensing comes to the fore. Last season, Bray were moved to the Premier a week before the campaign got underway when Cork City were demoted. Harps have been away from home on opening day in each of the last two seasons.

They last opened the season against Cork in 2005 on their return to the Premier Division when goals from John O'Flynn and current Republic of Ireland international Kevin Doyle gave the side then managed by Damien Richardson a comfortable 2-0 win in the campaign when they lost won the top flight. Harps, for their trouble, were relegated under the helm of Anthony Gorman, who had taken over from Felix Healy that June.

Ahead of the new campaign, Harps boss James Gallagher hopes to add to his playing staff ahead of pre-season training, which kicks off on January 15. Gallagher has re-signed James Doherty, Thomas Bonner and Mark Forker, while Kevin McHugh and Ciaran Gallagher were already contracted to the club.

Harps' fixtures: Fri. 4 March Cork City (a); Fri. 11 March Drogheda United (h); Fri. 18 March Shelbourne (a); Waterford United (a);

Fri. 1 April Mervue United (h); Fri. 8 April Monaghan United (a); Fri. 15 April Longford Town (h); Fri. 22 April Wexford Youths (h); Sat. 30 April Athlone Town (a);

Sat. 7 May Salthill Devon (a); Fri. 13 May Limerick (h); Fri. 20 May Cork City (h); Thurs. 26 May Drogheda United (a); Mon./Tues. 30/31 May TBC Shelbourne (h);

Fri. 10 June Waterford United (h); Fri. 17 June Mervue United (a); Fri. 24 June Monaghan United (h);

Sat. 2 July Longford Town (a); Fri. 8 July Wexford Youths (a); Fri. 15 July Athlone Town (h); Fri. 22 July Salthill Devon (h);

Fri. 5 August Limerick (a); Fri. 12 August Cork City (a); Fri. 19 August Drogheda United (h);

Sat. 3 September Shelbourne (a); Fri. 9 September Waterford United (a); Fri. 16 September Mervue United (h); Fri. 23 September Monaghan United (a); Fri. 30 September Longford Town (h);

Sat. 8 October Wexford Youths (h); Sat. 15 October Athlone Town (a); Sat. 22 October Salthill Devon (a); Sat. 29 October Limerick (h).