As a Letterkenny man Gareth Harkin might’ve taken something of the long way around to join Donegal’s senior club but the now 23-year-old certainly has time on his hands.
The old adage about a squad of footballers having a blend of youth and experience is a cliché commonly dragged out, although that’s a perfect description of the constitution of what James Gallagher has amalgamated at Finn Park.
Experienced campaigners like Conor O’Grady, Kevin McHugh and Paddy McLaughlin have been added to the Harps squad, who, although still young, are not as baby-faced as in the last couple of seasons as the expectancy level rises in and around Ballybofey.
Faces and come and gone at the club of course but Harkin is a young man who would’ve been familiar with the north-western footballing fraternity because of his bloodlines. Gareth’s grandfather Tommy is a well-known physio and much else asides at a number of local teams, most recently with the Donegal Youths and Fanad United.
Kenny, Gareth’s dad, was one of the best local footballers a generation ago on an all-conquering Fanad team that won two FAI Intermediate Cups and upended a number of league sides in the cup competitions, like Derry City, Sligo Rovers and indeed Harps, for whom he had a couple brief of spells.
Like his dad, Gareth was also floating around the midfield at whatever type of unseemly weather conditions Triaghalough would muster, before making his way to Derry City and then Limavady United.
He spent his last three years at the Showgrounds in Coleraine, showing his versatility in playing at full-back, anywhere across the midfield or up front. But when Harps came calling, Harkin’s time in the Irish League was to come to an end. It was a sort of homecoming.
Two weeks ago, Harkin made his first appearance in the colours of Harps in an entertaining 2-2 home draw against Limerick FC at Finn Park. The visitors came as the most comfortable winners in the Twin Towns last term and with utterances of being as good a team as there is in the division, but Harps were a match for their guests and had Mark Forker not been controversially dismissed for a challenge on Gary Sheehan, who knows where the points would’ve ended up.
“We worked hard on a lot of things and I think we were unfortunate to draw the game,” Harkin adds. “Mark Forker got sent off for us at a bad time and if have had 11 men then maybe we could have gone on and won the game. It was a little disappointing but at the same time it wasn’t a bad result and we played alright.
“It was a decent team performance considering it was our first time playing together with a new squad and sometimes these things take time to gel, but we seemed to be on the one wavelength pretty much straight away.”
From a personal perspective, Harkin lined out on the right-hand-side of a front three, with Kevin McHugh and Marc Brolly. And a goal was certainly a cheery on top of a commendable first run-out.
“It was nice to get on the scoresheet on my first game. As I said, we have the capabilities of finishing strongly and we watched the video back. I would be my own biggest critic and a player can always improve himself. Of course I talk a lot of football with my dad and he would give me pointers and advice. I heard after my goal against Limerick, though, that he and I are now level at a goal apiece on the Harps all-time scoring list!
“Seriously though, I used to always go to his games in Fanad and he certainly scored goals for fun while he was there, even though he was more often a midfielder than a forward.
Harps were stuck in the blocks last weekend as their second scheduled outing of the campaign fell foul of a waterlogged pitch at Lisseywollen, the home of Athlone Town. Harps, therefore, had to use the afternoon to train at Finn Park and with that postponement in mind, are eager to get back into action against Monaghan United tonight.
“It’s a game we can look forward to,” he says. “Monaghan will be on the up with a new manager in the form of Roddy Collins on board. Even before he came in, they were within a whisker or promotion just last season. We’re expecting a tough game but if we get a win against someone like Monaghan, it would be a great marker for us but we’ll see how it goes.
“From our point of view, we want to make Finn Park something of a fortress and make it a really hard place to come to. Last year the lads were only beaten here twice all season and that’s something we have to strive for. The first five games are hugely important in any league and with the youth and experience we have on board we we would love to get off to a good start.”