BY CHRIS MCNULTY
SHAUN McGowan cut the picture of frustration on Friday night in a sombre clubhouse at Finn Park.
The warmdown was a silent stream of Harps players, taking in the fact that their aspirations of having a tilt at promotion are all but gone.
McGowan remembers happier times. A former programme seller at the Navenny Street entrance, Harps are close to his heart and it was almost through gritted teeth that he spoke of the grim reality.
“That leaves us eleven behind Waterford with six to go. We’ll keep going and we’ll keep plugging away, looking for results but, realistically, we have given ourselves too much to do,” he said after the 2-0 defeat to Waterford United.
“Last season, the final dozen games were just a matter of playing them out. We didn’t want that to happen again this season. Unfortunately it looks like it is the case again.”
Finding a level of consistency has been the biggest factor in Harps’ decline and they’ll look back in longful regret at those seven games in a row without a win that has put paid to those hopes of reaching for the stars.
McGowan said: “We got off to a good start and were playing good football. There was a good buzz about the place to begin with.
“When we went on a run of defeats, confidence started to go. We didn’t do ourselves many favours and we made very hard work of it.
“It was very hard to get out of the rut. Losing is a habit, as well as winning. We went on a blip and it took us too long to come out of it.
“Even when we did snap out of it, we weren’t consistent enough to go out and win two games in a row”
That only six players have found the net in the League this year is one of the starting points when you begin to analyse where it all went wrong. With Kevin McHugh and Shaun McCarron contributing 14 of their 24 goals, just four others players have found the net this season.
McGowan said: “We have missed too many chances – and that’s not having a go at the front men. “From midfield and everywhere, from corners and set plays in general, we haven’t shared the goals around and that’s been a problem.
“It was the same tonight: we created chances, but the ‘keeper pulled off some great saves. It was like the story of our season when he pulled that one from Pat (McCann) out of the top corner.”
The only remaining source of solace for Harps comes with the FAI Cup. On Friday night, Harps have a chance to get to what would be their first FAI Cup quarter-final since 2002, when they lost a replay to eventual winners Dundalk. McGowan’s young diet was based around nights like that. As a player, he hasn’t tasted it, though.
He said: “I’m here a long time and I have never got past the second round of the Cup. I’ve never played in a Cup quarter-final. It’s something I want to do. I was at the three Cup finals in ’99 and I’m not saying we’ll get there obviously, but it would be nice to get a bit of a Cup run going.
“Cobh is an absolutely massive game – even just to keep the momentum going for the last six games.
“It’d be nice to get a buzz back – and, of course, there’d be gates along with it which would be needed.
“We’ll regroup on Monday again. We can’t take Cobh lightly and they’ll see this as a good draw too. We have to put them on the back foot early on, but it won’t be easy.
“It’s a great opportunity for us.”