Finn Harps host Longford Town in their first home game of the season, when they make a return to Saturday night fixtures this weekend.
Harps have a point on the board after a 1-1 draw away to Kildare County last Saturday night. David McDaid, a loan signing from Derry City, bagged his first goal for the club after David O'Riordan's deflected goal had given the side that finished bottom of Division One the lead early in the second half.
Although Harps levelled seven minutes from the end, and were obviously relived to do so, they created a number of early scoring opportunities before they fell behind and manager Paul Hegarty admitted afterwards that there were "mixed emotions" after the 1-1 draw.
"We certainly had enough chances to win the game," Hegarty noted afterwards. "We played well in patches and in fairness their goalkeeper kept them in it at times with a couple of good saves. We had so many chances when the score was still 0-0. All in all, you could say that it's really a case of mixed emotions for me when I looked back at the game, but I cannot fault anyone for lacking effort."
With the revolving door having almost been torn off with such overuse during the winter, there can be contented in the fact a squad with an average age of just over 20 managed to get a point on a road, which can act as a confidence booster. As well as the goalscorer McDaid, there were also debutant stints from Ciaran Coll, Johnny Havlin, Ruairi Harkin and substitute Mark Forker.
The main injury concern for Hegarty concerned Michael Fuston, although it has since been confirmed that he was replaced against Kildare merely because he was suffering with cramp. Therefore, there should be very little in the form of switches from last week. Marc Brolly, who had a hamstring injury, was a doubt then but he managed to make a substitute appearance and played in the closing stages. Two men awaiting clearance from the FAI were Vinny Sweeney and James Doherty, so it's a waiting game where they are concerned.
Longford opened their season last weekend at Flancare Park with fireworks. Playing their first competitive fixture under new manager Alan Gough, the Shannonsiders were 3-0 up inside the opening quarter-hour against Monaghan United with Colm Jinks, Jason McCartney and Derek Glynn all finding the net in quick succession in the 11th, 12th and 13th minutes.
But Mick Cooke's side dug in deep with Karl Bermingham and Sean Brennan pulling goals back before half-time and Barry Clancy forcing a 3-3 draw. This means that Athlone Town, UCD and Shelbourne have three points after the opening round of fixtures. Hegarty has insisted he will retain his stance over what his side can achieve, until after maybe half-a-dozen games.
"They're a big and experienced side and it will be difficult for us against Longford," Hegarty said. "Last week, they opened very well and scored three early goals, which proved what a threat they can be, so we know what to expect from them. It’ll be a tough game and a different challenge from the one that we faced last week.
“As I said before, we’re still trying to find our feet with so many changes having gone on at the club. Time will tell I suppose as this is a very competitive division this year but we’ll know where we stand in another few weeks.”
Harps’ last meeting with the midlanders was in 2005. Despite winning 5-0 with Conor Gethins netting his first goal for the club, the side under Anthony Gorman were still relegated from the Premier Division. After rubbing shoulders with the elite for a number of years, including two FAI Cup and a League Cup success, Longford’s six-point deduction in 2007 was the start of a slippery slope that led to relegation and eighth place from 10 teams was a sobering return to the lower flight last year. Like Saturday’s opponents, Harps must also try to stabilise before they blossom.
Finn Harps’ second home game of the season against UCD has been switched to Friday, 27th March to avoid clash with Ireland-Bulgaria World Cup the following night.