A WONDERFULLY worked goal on the stroke of half-time wasn’t enough for Finn Harps to post victory over Bray Wanderers in their first outing of the Airtricity Dr Tony O’Neil U-19 Championship Elite Division.
Finn Harps 1
Bray Wanderers 0
Ryan Lonergan won a crunching tackle with Wanderers’ Neil O’Kane in midfield to lay the foundations and the impressive Dean McConnell in turn found Darragh Black on the right. The winger centred into the corridor of uncertainty between the six-yard box and penalty spot for the incoming Ryan Curran to steer home first time.
The excellently constructed and concluded move gave Harps the lead just a minute before the break and it was an advantage they deserved against the more physical Co Wicklow outfit. However, despite a decent performance and a willingness to play some neat football throughout, the home team had to be content with a point.
Dave Mackey, the Bray Wanderers manager, emptied his bench in a bid to get back into the game. His gamble was rewarded on 70 minutes when Paul Clifford picked up possession on the edge of the box and drilled a daisy-cutter across the brows of Sean Patton into the bottom corner.
Having obtained promotion as winners of the Northern Section last season, Sean McGowan’s Harps team built on that level of confidence to get their season off to a decent start in the more lofty surroundings.
Harps shaded the first half, going close on a number of occasions. Centre-forward Christopher Flanagan was narrowly off target with an early strike from the edge of the penalty area and the same player was similarly out of luck with a header following Cathal McDaid’s cross.
Bray, content to build from the back, had opportunities too. Ross Griffin almost opened the scoring on 16 minutes following uncertainty in the hosts’ defence following a throw-in from Sean Hurley. However, Griffin’s pop at goal was well blocked by McConnell. Thomas Lahiff also tested Harps’ goalkeeper Shaun Patton with a header.
Harps, though, had more of the ball and McConnell almost benefitted from a poor throw out by Bray No1 Thomas Dunne. The Harps striker opted for the quick shot on goal, which was just over, moments before Curran’s opening goal.
Hurley’s good work at the start of part two almost provided an almost instant equaliser. Cutting in from the left-wing where he had done all the spadework his drive from an acute angle was just a little too optimistic and blazed wide.
Harps thought they had doubled their advantage on 50 when, following Cathal McDaid’s pinching off possession from David Crosbie, McConnell was fouled as he squared to Lonergan.
The midfielder’s drive from 20 yards was crisp and clean, flashing into Dunne’s bottom corner just as referee Donal McCafferty’s whistle tooted. Harps’ protestations fell on deaf ears and McDaid’s free was comfortably saved by Dunne.
After the equaliser, Harps continued to keep the ball on the deck and another nice move was rounded off with McConnell shooting just wide when he appeared to be clipped before opting to shoot.
Harps continue their campaign with a long trek next weekend to Cobh Ramblers but can be encouraged by their season’s opener.
Finn Harps: Shaun Patton; John McGarvey, Peter Doherty, Dylan Quinn (Aaron Conroy 64), Dean Bonner; Darragh Black (Cillian Gallagher 81), Ryan Curran, Ryan Lonergan, Cathal McDaid; Christopher Flanagan, Dean McConnell.
Bray Wanderers: Thomas Dunne; David Crosbie (Timothy Hawe 69), Paul Clifford, Thomas Lahiff, Neil O’Kane; Craig Dowling (Conor French 66), Ross Griffin, Adam Cox (Connor French 69); Adrian Rafferty, Gerald Pender, Sean Hurley.
Referee: Donal McCafferty.