FINN Harps manager Peter Hutton is targeting an extended run in this season’s FAI Senior Cup ahead of Friday’s second round clash with Wexford Youths in Ballybofey (kick-off 8).
The Harps boss has previously made his feelings known that promotion is top of their priority list this season.
However, the recent EA Sports Cup clash with Derry City has whetted the appetite for more big nights at Finn Park and Hutton knows too well what a cup run can do for the feel-good factor of a club.
He has three FAI Cup and seven League-Cup winners’ medals in his vast collection and, although Harps are rated as 40/1 outsiders for the competition, Hutton sees no reason why they can’t make it into the latter rounds at least.
“We want to give it a go,” he said this week. “We’re realistic in knowing that we’re by no means favourites but it would be nice to progress as far as we can.”
The League-Cup game against Derry saw the biggest crowd of the season go through the turnstiles at Finn Park and with the potential to attract top-flight opposition further down the line, Hutton feels a cup run could also add a bit of traction to their promotion push.
“It shows you what a bigger crowd can do for the atmosphere of the ground. It energises the players and gives them that extra spring in their step,” he said.
“When you play against top-flight opposition it shows you how far away you are from playing at that level. Hopefully there will be a few more nights like that this season and if we can recreate that sort of atmosphere on a regular basis I’m sure we’ll go places.”
They face a familiar opponent this evening in the shape of Wexford Youths. Harps travelled to Ferrycarrig last Friday night in the league but despite Sean McCarron providing them with a 17th minute lead, they slipped to a 2-1 defeat thanks to goals from Joey Mulcahy and Aidan Keenan.
“We under-performed and didn’t play at anywhere near the same level that we have produced in recent weeks,” said Hutton.
“We got off to a good start but rather than take the initiative, we sat back and invited them onto us. We were a bit nervous and hesitant and we just didn’t apply ourselves for their two goals – the penalty and then a long ball that took out our entire back-four, which is very uncharacteristic of our season so far.”
It was the third game in the space of a week for Harps, who recently took in back-to-back trips to Cork and Longford, and Hutton admits fatigue might well have been a factor when they made the lengthy 480-mile roundtrip last Friday.
“I think it might’ve been a combination of both (fatigue and the tight schedule), although I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses,” he said.
“It was a long, arduous journey and you could see some of the boys getting off the bus were still half-asleep. We had a bit of a delay on the way down the road in Monaghan as well which didn’t help.
“It’s not ideal but we can’t point to that – every other team has to travel up to us as well, so it works both ways.
“The two goals they scored were handed to them on a plate. In general, they outmuscled and bullied us. They’re a big physical side and they work extremely hard.”
At the time of McCarron’s goal, which took him onto seven for the season, Mervue United were winning against Longford Town, which would’ve seen Harps move to within a point of the leaders if things had of stayed the same.
However, by full-time Harps had relinquished their advantage, while Longford came back to win 2-1 in Galway, extending their lead at the top of the table to seven points, ahead of Harps and Wexford.
“It just shows you the nature of what the league is like,” said Hutton. “If you can string a couple of results together you’ll rocket up the table.
“It was a bad night at the office on Friday but I’m sure there’ll be plenty of them between now and the end of the season. It’s how you respond from such setbacks that determine your season.
“And to be honest I can’t fault the lads’ effort and commitment. They’ve been outstanding in recent weeks. We had a good performance against Derry on Monday and a few good results against the likes of Longford and Mervue before that.”
Both Harps and Wexford will be missing players through suspensions for tonight’s cup clash – Thomas Croke received a red card last week for a second bookable offence, while Kevin McHugh serves a one-game ban for an accumulation of yellows.
Harps could also be without defender Damien McNulty who has been struggling with tendinitis in his knee recently, but there appears to be no such worries over the fitness of defensive duo Keith Cowan and Thomas McMonagle, who both shook off injuries to play the full 90 minutes last week.
“They both came through okay,” said Hutton. “They trained again this week and there wasn’t any after effects, thankfully.”