By Aidan O’Donnell
FINN Harps could go joint-second in the Airtricity League of Ireland First Division with a win over title favourites Limerick at Finn Park tomrrow night, Saturday, (kick-off 7.45).
The Ballybofey outfit, currently in fourth place, come into the game on the back of three straight league wins and just four points off the top of the table, following the end of the first series of games last weekend.
Limerick, who are just one point adrift of table-toppers Longford Town, opened up their campaign with a stuttering 2-1 win over Harps at Jackman Park seven weeks ago.
Pat Scully’s side were widely expected to walk this season’s First Division and, although they have come unstuck on a couple of occasions, Harps player-manager Peter Hutton believes they will be a much more dangerous opponent to the one they faced by the Shannon at the beginning of March.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “They have assembled such a big squad that it was probably going to take them that bit longer to gel as a team.
“You can see now over the past few weeks, if you look at their results, it’s clear they’re starting to make some inroads.
“They’re the title favourites and rightly so, given the players they have at their disposal, so it’s obviously going to be a tough game for us, but one we’re all really looking forward to.”
Hutton, though, didn’t deny it will be a much different Harps side that Limerick faced in the curtain-raiser.
Encouraging away wins over promotion hopefuls Waterford United and Longford Town in the last few weeks have underlined Harps’ credentials as a potential challenger for the play-offs.
Furthermore, they have only conceded one goal in their last four league games and ended the first series of games as top scorers in the second tier.
“We’ve had a few decent results but we’re not getting carried away,” said Hutton.
“Once you start to get complacent it comes back to bite you. We are a bit more together than we were at the start of the season. Players are more aware of their roles and what is expected of them.
“We’re also more equipped to deal with the style of play Limerick employed against us down at their place, when they tried to hurt us with long balls, throw-ins and things like that.”
The biggest crowd of the season could be expected at the Navenny Street venue tomorrow evening – a welcome side effect from Harps’ recent good form and the arrival of a stellar Limerick side to Ballybofey.
The Harps player-manager, who has started the last four league games at centre-half, acknowledged the significance of what a winning Harps side might do for attendances.
“It all helps. If we’re winning games then that will generate an interest among the footballing public and hopefully get more people through the gates, which is obviously important for the club.
“But, like I said, we’re not getting carried away. We’re very much building the club for the future as well as trying to put out a good first team. We’re doing a lot of work in the communities and the schools and trying to put a good academy in place.
“We’re happy with the way things are ticking along at the minute, but we’re certainly not going to try and run before we can walk.”
Limerick arrive in the northwest off the back of a 1-0 away win over Wexford Youths last weekend, while Harps recorded their third league win on the bounce following a monumental second-half effort away to Longford, where second-half goals by Paul Simon Tracey, Thomas McBride and Blain Curtis helped inflict a first defeat of the season on the high-flying midlanders.