Harps gear up for leaders Shels

A host of absentees including captain Kevin McHugh means the alterations will continue as Finn Harps welcome league leaders Shelbourne to Ballybofey on Saturday night.

A host of absentees including captain Kevin McHugh means the alterations will continue as Finn Harps welcome league leaders Shelbourne to Ballybofey on Saturday night.

McHugh is suspended for the visit of Alan Mathews’ team having crossed the threshold of yellow cards and will join Paddy McLaughlin, Packie Mailey and Marc Brolly on the sidelines. On the plus side, though, Peter Hutton and John Paul Gallagher are expected to make their first-team debuts for the club and James Doherty will return from injury on a week when director of football Felix Healy said there is likely to be two new faces coming to the club from England.

“We will have news on a couple of players coming to the club in the next few days but before that we will concentrate on what we have,” Healy said.

“We have played almost every club in the league since myself and Peter (Hutton) came in so this will complete the series. We’ve progressed a bit and then gone back a bit, progressed a bit and gone back a bit, which is to be expected really. Shelbourne will be a good test for us.”

Indeed, the Tolka Park side come to the Twin Towns with a faultless away points haul in the Airtricity League First Division thus far, with their eight wins on the road going a huge way to assisting their seven-point advantage over Cork City at the top of the table.

Harps lost to the Leesiders in their last home fixture a fortnight ago and then went down by the odd goal in five last weekend at Flancare Park against Longford Town. It was during that match that McLaughlin picked up a hamstring injury, which is likely to see the former Coleraine defender sidelined for four to six weeks.

The main talking point after the game was the fact John Paul Gallagher was unable to play as his registration had been delayed by the Irish Football Association in Belfast. And although the full-back was not cleared at the time of going to press yesterday, Healy was confident the matter will be resolved before Saturday.

“The IFA were closed for a few days holidays and we have been in contact with the FAI in Dublin in regards the matter,” he added. “The FAI have also been onto the IFA to get the matter sorted but unless something is seriously amiss we can expect John Paul to be involved.”

Brolly is out having got married last weekend and the Strabane native is currently on honeymoon, while Mailey, who has a broken bone in his foot, had his plaster removed on the advice of a specialist but is not progressing as had been hoped.

“Packie’s injury hasn’t really improved since getting the cast removed but we will continue to monitor his progress over the coming weeks,” Healy added. “Paddy’s injury is a blow as he actually suffered the problem while getting fouled in the lead-up to Longford’ penalty last weekend, which levelled the game. It seems as though his hamstring is torn rather than pulled so he will not be available for a while.”

Healy also noted that Conor O’Grady, who was released from the club last month, underwent ankle surgery and Harps will monitor the situation with the former Sligo Rovers skipper as his rehabilitation continues.

“But we will have Stephen O’Donnell and John Paul all going well, while Peter played for the A team last weekend from the bench against Derry City. James Doherty (who had a medial ligament injury) is due to return to training this week having been out since the Salthill game.”

Shelbourne shaded the first meeting of the sides this season when a David Cassidy goal was enough to seal the three points for the Dubliners. McHugh was in temporary charge that night in the wake of James Gallagher’s sacking and Harps put in a commendable shift.

“I spoke to Alan Mathews after that game,” Healy said. “He said the lads did well and there wasn’t much between the sides. We have acquitted ourselves reasonably well against the so-called bigger teams and when we get the new players settled in, we will move in the right direction. We are working on a few new things on the training ground so, as I said, this will be a good test for us.”