By John O’Hara
On Friday night in Finn Park, the boys in blue have just one more hurdle to overcome to reach the promised land of Premier Division football, a feat that seemed impossible to all but the die-hard fans of the Navenney Street outfit.
A 1-0 deficit from Monday night’s game leaves the tie wide open and gives Harps’ fans optimism that they can roar their team to a memorable victory, which could see Ollie Horgan’s men take their place among the elite of Irish soccer.
It is a remarkable prospect for Ollie and the club and it is imperative that the people of Donegal get out to support the county’s only senior club. Finn Park has been a shadow of its former self in recent seasons but on Friday night, the clock will be turned back with a bumper crowd expected and a cacophony of noise anticipated.
It is just desserts for both Ollie and his management team and the small band of die-hards who have graced the terraces in the good times, the bad times and the downright bleak times. They would have been forgiven for turning their backs on a club that seemed destined to fold, rather than mount a promotion challenge. But yet they persisted. And on Friday night, they can take great credit for playing a huge part in the journey of Ollie and the lads.
And yet the task in onerous. They must turn over a Limerick team that are in flying form, but Monday night’s game has left the fans with a sense that it is a task that can be done. Defensive frailties and goalkeeping errors that were evident on Monday will be dissected in great detail by Ollie and his backroom team. Video analysis will be combed by the Galway man like an army general looking for chinks in the enemy’s armour.
Nathan Boyle will play no part in the final game, but would Harps’ fans want anyone else but the prolific Kevin McHugh to come in and take his place? McHugh’s place in the hall of fame has long been secured but if he were to hit the back of the net on Friday night and catapult his team to the Premier Division, he would be worshipped like no other among the harps’ faithful.
Hot on the heels of McHugh is the new kid on the block, BJ Banda. The seventeen year old, who is a student in The Royal and Prior in Raphoe, has hit the ground running in his first season and has forced his way into Ollie’s team, with his pace and strength a perfect fit for Horgan’s plans. How Ollie sets up will be anyone’s guess but both of these players will play a big part on Friday night. BJ will be ruing an excellent chance from Monday night, which saw him round the ‘keeper but his shot from outside the box went the wrong side of an empty net. But anyone who knows the young man will know that it won’t bother him and he’ll be gunning for more goals on Friday night and what an opportunity it is for the young lad, who has been fearless so far.
At the back, Ollie will be thankful for the return of netminder, Ciaran Gallagher, who has undoubtedly been a catalyst for Harps’ promotion push. He has been in sparkling form this year, providing the defence with a solid foundation, a man that can be relied on if the defence is breached. Ciaran Coll is another man who has made a massive contribution this year, with some fantastic performances, but it’s his consistency that is so remarkable and he surely one of the favourites for Player of the Year. Damien McNulty, the only Harps’ player to make the Division One Team of the Year has put in another inspirational season and his aggression in the air and in the tackle have added a steeliness to Harps that had been missing.
But Ollie would be quick to dispel individual brilliance for this year’s promotion push, as it has been a team effort, with every man putting his shoulder to the wheel. Ollie has done his job, the players have done theirs and it’s now up to us, the Donegal sporting public to get behind the boys and help them over the final hurdle. C’mon the Harps!