Action from Monday night's game at Finn Park. Photo: Stephen Doherty.
Having led 4-0 before the hour, Finn Harps had to survive a nervy finish before eventually squeezing past the challenge of the Mayo League in Monday night’s EA Sports League Cup 1st round tie in Ballybofey.
Finn Harps . . . 4
Mayo League . . . 3
The visitors, who were outplayed for so long in this tie, gave the Donegal side a real fright with three goals in the closing half hour.
But Harps had done just enough to seal a place in the next round - even though there will be serious questions asked about how they let Mayo back into this contest.
The Harps side may have shown several changes from Friday night’s draw with Shelbourne, but Ollie Horgan still managed to name a strong starting eleven which included Peter Burke in goal, Lee Toland at left back and Jesse Devers in midfield.
Once again, the O’Connor brothers were deployed as attacking wide men and along with John O’Flynn playing at centre forward, they caused no end of trouble for Mayo in the early stages.
Harps’ early pressure didn’t take too long to pay. O’Flynn was denied by a smart save from Mayo keeper Gary Cunningham but from the resultant 6th minute corner from Toland, Devers’ effort crashed in off the underside of the crossbar.
In front of a sparse attendance of around 200, Harps were the dominant side and they continued to control the contest after Devers’ goal with Mark Timlin seeing an effort blocked by Cunningham. O’Flynn was then denied a second by an offside flag.
A real feature of the first half was the quality of Lee Toland’s deliveries from set-piece situations. Time and again, the left back served up some delicious crosses into the danger area - unfortunately for the home side, to no avail.
Mayo offered little threat and they eventually fell further behind five minutes before half-time when Michael O’Connor won possession just outside the box before stroking the ball into the bottom corner.
Five minutes after the restart it was 3-0, Toland’s drilling the ball home from 20 yards.
In between, Harps lost Gareth Harkin to what appeared to be a recurrence of a knee injury. That wasn’t the only real blemish on what should have been a comfortable night for the Donegal side. After conceding a poor goal against Shelbourne on Friday night, they were guilty of two more bad errors in this one which led to Mayo’s opening two goals.
John O’Flynn, making his first start for Harps, fired home a fourth on 55 minutes. But then came two avoidable mistakes by the home side which will have surely frustrated their manager. Mayo pulled one back when Brendan Lavelle took advantage of a Sam Todd slip to shoot past Peter Burke on 58. Then Burke was guilty of letting a long-range strike from Sean Morrissey squeeze through his grasp on 70 minutes and suddenly it was 4-2.
Ciaran O’Connor should have scored a fifth for the home side but he shot wide when set up by substitute, Dylan McCroary. Then, much to the consternation of the home supporters, Mayo struck for a third on 81, Lavelle shooting home after James O’Donnell smashed an effort off the bar.
Harps though, held out for the win on a strange night in Ballybofey.
Finn Harps: Peter Burke, Aidan Friel (Keith Cowan 84), Lee Toland, Ciaran Coll, Sam Todd, Gareth Harkin (Mark Hannon 48), Michael O’Connor, Jesse Devers (Dylan McCroary 64), John O’Flynn, Ciaran O’Connor, Mark Timlin.
Mayo League: Gary Cunningham, Sean Morrissey (Jason Muldoon 89), James O’Donnell, Killian McGlade, Derek Tansey, Mark Birrane, Peter Corcoran (Luke Honan 65), Keelan McDonnell, Brendan Lavelle, Davog Doherty (Jason Hunt 58), Jamie Cawley.
Referee: Garvan Taggart.