by John O’Hara
Solid Foundations being Laid in Finn Park
With Ollie Horgan’s men destined for a place in this year’s league of Ireland first division play-off and Joe Boyle’s U-19 team topping their league, it is clear that the Navenney Street outfit have finally got their house in order and that the future is bright for Harps’ fans from across the county.
Tony McNamee’s solitary goal in Cobh last weekend leaves Harps in a great position and another win on Friday night against UCD, will see Harps on their way to the coveted home advantage in the second league of the play-off, most likely against the students. It wasn’t just McNamee’s man of the match display on Friday night or his well-taken goal that had people talking, it was the fact that the Ramelton man who got in from his trip to Cobh at 5 a.m. was back up for work at 9 a.m.
In a world, where GAA players, who are described as amateur, are given every possible advantage in order to perform at their peak, it is a great insight into the lives of players, who ply their trade at Finn Park. There is no way that Donegal GAA players would be expected to travel to Cork and back for a match in just one day, but that was the reality for McNamee and his colleagues, who make such huge sacrifices, unbeknownst to many of the Donegal sporting public.
With a reported weekly wage budget of under €2,000, Ollie Horgan has assembled a team of players who simply wish to ply their trade at the highest possible level. They could easily fill their pockets with money from the Ulster Senior League or even the Donegal League, but instead, they put football first, they put Finn Harps first and long-time fans are well aware of their sacrifices.
On Friday night, the Donegal sporting public have a chance to show their appreciation to the players and staff of Finn Harps, by showing up to Finn Park for their encounter with UCD. Going to a game of football is hardly a massive sacrifice and those who go often lament the fact that they should be going more regularly but have just got out of the habit of attending games. Anyone who has gone to Finn Park this year have been pleasantly surprised by the football played at times by the men in blue. Tony McNamee and Gareth Harkin have injected much needed quality into the hard-working team and with Kevin McHugh still producing the goods, they are much easier on the eye than they have been in previous years.
The professionalism that Ollie has brought to the team cannot be overlooked. The attention to detail, the videoing of games, the strength and conditioning and the overall club project that has been initiated have put Harps in a place that fans have dreamed about for years. Intermittent bouts of success have always ended with ultimate failure, as the foundations of the club were not put in place correctly. The board seemed to have grasped this and have put in Trojan work in an effort to address this.
If you consider the performances and results of the club’s U-19 team for the past two seasons and look at their start to this campaign, it is clear that great work is going on at the club. They are the only team to win all of their opening three games, beating Derry City in a convincing 3-0 win last Saturday. When you consider that Derry City has been held up as an example for others to follow, it’s clear that Harps are heading in the right direction.
On Saturday, the U-19 team were without two of their stars, as BJ Banda and Gareth Doherty travelled to Cobh with the senior team, with the former making his debut at just seventeen years of age. The latter is seen by many as a future midfielder for the Harps’ senior team. Both players were playing their football with Letterkenny Rovers last year and would probably be still at Leckview, but for the intervention of Joe Boyle, who has stamped his authority on the U-19 team in an efficient manner. A number of other players have followed Banda and Doherty to Finn Park and Darragh Black, whose progression has stalled in recent seasons in a poor U-19 team has been totally rejuvenated, scoring four goals in the opening three games. Simon McGlynn and Declan Sharkey are others who have caught the eye in the U-19 team and give Harps’ fans a real sense of optimism for the years ahead.
The fact that the U-17 team, managed by Declan Boyle have had a tough start to the season is not a reason to worry, as Harps have now in place a clear structure for young players who can see a pathway from underage football to senior football at the club. They do however, have to address the missing link, which is football for those who are out of the U-19’s and not getting a game with the senior team. With the USL back to winter football, it makes it difficult for the club to keep the signatures of gifted young players who are not ready for the step up to the senior team.
It’s only a couple of months that Harps had to pull their USL team out of the league, which was used by many, as a stick to beat the club with, but in the intervening months, the board have certainly redeemed themselves with their new structures. And with their U-19 team top of their league, there is a chance that promotion for the senior team could be coupled with success at U-19 level, something the club haven’t tasted since Sean McGowan managed the team.
So with a renewed sense of optimism and the prospect of promotion still in the air in September, Harps’ fans will converge on Finn Park on Friday evening to cheer on the lads, who have made huge personal sacrifices to get the club to this position. Behind the scenes, the board have made huge strides is creating a solid foundation for Donegal’s only senior club and now it’s time for the Donegal sporting public to put their weight behind this ambitious project and take it to the next level. Live football on a Friday night under the lights, what more can you ask for?