Finn Harps' Mark Coyle collides with Shelbourne's James Brown during the SSE Airtricity First Division match in Finn Park on Friday night. Photo Thomas Gallagher INDD130318 Harps v Shelbourne TG1
Loan signing Michael O’Connor struck on his Harps debut as the Donegal club began life back in the First Division with a draw against Shelbourne at Finn Park on Friday night.
Finn Harps . . . 1
Shelbourne . . . 1
O’Connor’s struck on 15 minutes to hand Harps the perfect start.
Disappointingly however, the home side were eventually pegged back by a well organised Shelbourne side who deserved to leave Ballybofey with a share of the spoils.
With all the changes in personnel since their departure from the Premier Division, it was very much a new-look starting eleven for Harps.
New signings Mark Coyle, Sam Todd, Aidan Friel and the O’Connor brothers, Michael and Ciaran, were all included from the start.
The Donegal side, with Paddy McCourt pulling the strings at midfield from first whistle, settled quickest. There were early home appeals for a penalty but Mark Coyle was instead booked for what the referee saw as ‘simulation’ inside the box.
But by the 15th minute, Harps made the early breakthrough when Michael O’Connor made room for himself just inside the box and fired past Dean Delaney.
Shels offered little going forward in the early stages, but they were denied an equaliser when Ciaran Gallagher produced a wonderful reaction save to deny David O’Sullivan. The cross from the left by Dayle Rooney was volleyed goalwards from close range by the Shels striker but Gallagher somehow diverted it over with a flying save.
That chance marked the start of a good spell for the visitors and O’Sullivan went close again on 35 but his header from a corner kick flew the wrong side of the post.
Harps struggled to regain the control the enjoyed early on, although Coyle continued to cause Shels some concern when coming forward.
But Shelbourne drew level on 42 minutes when Gallagher was guilty of a terrible mistake, slipping outside his box as he came to deal with a ball over the top. O’Sullivan was able to take advantage, pouncing to win possession and score into the empty net.
It could have been worse for the home side by the interval - Aidan Collins wasted a glorious chance, flashing a header over the bar from six yards right on half-time.
The Shels centre half didn’t last too long after half-time. An injury forced him off four minutes in while a short time later, Ollie Horgan introduced BJ Banda in place of Coyle.
The second half offered very little in the way of chances or any incident and as Harps struggled to find an opening, former Cork City and Limerick frontman John O’Flynn came on for his debut.
Aidan Friel was almost in for Harps but after beating keeper Delaney in a race for possession, the angle was too right for Friel to shoot and his cross was eventually hacked clear.
O’Flynn fired over following a corner and from another set piece, Keith Cowan’s goalbound header was saved by Delaney.
Harps piled on the pressure in the dying minutes and Tommy McBride saw a late header come back off the crossbar. But Shels held firm and both teams had to settle for their first points of the new season.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher, Aidan Friel (Lee Toland 81), Ciaran Coll, Sam Todd, Keith Cowan, Tommy McBride, Mark Coyle (BJ Banda 61), Paddy McCourt, Michael O’Connor, Ciaran O’Connor (John O’Flynn 70), Mark Timlin.
Shelbourne: Dean Delaney, James Brown, Aidan Collins (Aaron Molloy 49), David Mulcahy, Lorcan Fitzgerald, James O’Brien, Adam Evans, Dayle Rooney (Gavin Boyne 89), James English, David O’Sullivan, Jamie Doyle.
Referee: Marc Lynch.