Off the Air

Charlie Collins

Harps need support – or else

Finn Park has seen a dramatic decline in numbers for recent home games.

Finn Park has seen a dramatic decline in numbers for recent home games.

EARLIER this week, Finn Harps manager Peter Hutton put on record a personal appeal to soccer supporters in the northwest to come out in their numbers and support Harps in their key Division 1 fixture against Waterford United at Finn Park tonight. Despite a bad run of results, Harps’ recent two home wins against Wexford Youths and Salthill Devon has given them an outside chance of making the play-offs.

A win over Waterford tonight, however, is a must. At the moment, Waterford and Longford twona re eight points clear of Harps, so a win tonight would make catching them still a possibility. Hutton’s appeal for a big turnout came on the back of some small attendnaces at the last two home games. Less tha 200 people turned up for the Salthill Devon game and it is difficult to get any type of atmosphere into a groun in those circumstances.

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The reality is that, like a lot of clubs, Harps are struggling to attract people through the turnstiles while performances are poor. With seven games to go in their League campaign it’s all about winning – and anything less tonight will make the job of clinching third spot almost impossible.

Looking at the bigger picture, it is easy to be fearful about the club’s long-term future. There is no doubt – and the situation in relation to attendances has already been pointed out – that it is becomming more difficult to sustain a senior club in the League of Ireland, and especially a Division 1 club. Mind you, crowds are down in the Premier League and when you see a club like Bohemians at the bottom, struggling on and off the pitch there can only be one conclusion: Things aren’t good.

In the Premier League, four clubs have dominated since the start of the season: St Patrick’s Athletic, Dundalk, Sligo Rovers and Derry City. Currently, just five points separate them at the top of the table with big spending Shamrock Rovers a distant nine points behind having drawn 50 per cent of their 24 games so far.

That should lead to an exciting end to the season but it still appears not attractive enough tolkeep crowds coming, apart from the odd exception. Eight teams in the Premier Division are located within a one-hour journey with five in Dublin, Bray Wanderers close by and both Dundalk and Drogheda United just up the M1. This is a big advantage in terms ofytravel and the lack of need for overnight accomodation lends itself to other cost saving measures.

Likewise for all those clubs, trips to Derry, Sligo, Cork and Limerick are now much shorter and no longer require the overnight stay. On the other hand, Derry face long trips to pretty much all of their games, except Sligo. For Harps, those long runs to Waterford, Cobh and Wexford put a strain on badly needed finances, with Longford, Athlone, Mervue and Salthill not exactly on the doorstep either.

I have never been a fan of the First Division of the League of Ireland and would much prefer to see an expanded Premier Division with a couple of regional leagues around the country, from which the top teams could get a chance to be promoted each season. Last season it looked like the clubs were about to go in that direction, but a few bigger ones got cold feet as the decision deadline approached and scuppered the plan in an act of pure self-interest and nothing else.

It may again be too soon to talk about the demise of senior football in Donegal – how often have we been at this tipping point before and somehow crawled a way back? The problem is that the more often you call the greater the chance of tipping over becomes. What is for sure is that Harps can’t hope to survive in the current economic climate, which is showing no sign of improvement and with crowds of less than 200 at home games. Home gate receipts and sponsorship deals are the lifeblood of clubs in the League and those numbers just don’t add up in terms of moving forward.

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The dedicated group that has kept Harps going so well for so long will continue to do their best to ensure that senior football is retained in Donegal. They do it because they know no other way and because of their love for the club. Peter Hutton has asked for help to try and give it one big push for the play-offs.

In asking, he reminded us of the effort his players have put in this season for very little financial reward in return. It is backs to the wall stuff now, but with a few hefty shoulders to the wheel, and more importantly through the turnstiles, might just makde the difference to see Harps through to the end of the season and able to look forward to another one next year.

IT’S A BIT LATE

AFTER much toing and froing by the Donegal Competitions Controls Committee (CCC), the dates for all remaining quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals in the respective Championships in Donegal were confirmed on Monday night. It looked at one stage as if the senior quarter-finals would go ahead this weekend, but they will now not be played until the middle of September with the semi finals on October 6th and the final on October 20th.

Surely this is far too late for the senior final, given that the quarter-finalists were known on the last weekend in June and the senior county side is out of the Championship since the first weekend in August. There is no doubt that the fixtures committee, in their wisdom, jumped the gun by announcing the September dates too quickly and then refixed them for mid-August when some had booked holidays on the strength of the original dates.

The problem now is how late the senior championship will run to. It will go to the 20th of October at least and maybe beyond that in the event of a replay. It seems a long time for clubs to keep players on their toes, especially the two who reach the final.Bear in mind that we still have four weeks to the quarter-finaals, another three after that to the semi-finals and another fortnight then until the final.

That gives us nine weeks to play three games. It is another case of bad planning and what chance will the champions have when they go straight into the Ulster championship? What started off as a well-planned and well-executed move in terms of this year’s championship is now dragging on for far too long.

It would have made much more sense to wait to see how the county team did and plan around that. Hopefully the fiasco won’t take away from the quality and the excitement of the club championship.

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE

WHAT a pleasure it was to watch Rob Heffernan win his gold medal at the World Championships in Moscow on Wednesday. He dominated almost from start to finish and it is just reard for years of dedication when he surely sometimes wondered if it was all worth it.

When one considers that our only previous two gold medalists were Eamon Coghlan and Sonia O’Sullivan, it puts into perspective what Rob has achieved and goes to prove yet again that sometimes, just sometimes, the good guy wins. Well done, too, to Patsy McGonagle.

It was great to see Patsy trackside embracing Rob after the goldmedal winning performance. Patsy has been there on so many occasions when athletes had nothing to show.