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Preview: Consistency key as Harps hit the home straight

Thomas McMonagle is a doubt for Finn Harps for this evening's game against Waterford United.

Thomas McMonagle is a doubt for Finn Harps for this evening’s game against Waterford United.

BY CHRIS MCNULTY

CONSISTENCY hasn’t been a plentiful commodity around Finn Park this season, but Peter Hutton is hoping that Finn Harps can find it for the final quarter of the season – which starts tonight against Waterford United in Ballybofey (8pm).

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Consistency has even been lacking in Hutton’s team selections, with the Derry native only able to retain his selection on three occasions with niggling injuries and suspension having become the bane of his season.

Again, tonight, Hutton is forced into a rejig with Mark Forker – the match-winner against Salthill Devon last Friday – having to serve a suspension.

There are a number of candidates to fill the Burtonport man’s void, with American Pat McCann, Johnny Bonner and Shane McGinty among the options.

Thomas Bonner is struggling with a calf injury, while Hutton also has fresh concerns over the availability of Thomas McMonagle and Michael Funston.

Both were forced off against Saltill, McMonagle nursing groin and calf muscle injuries and Funston feeling a twinge in his hamstring.

“Both are struggling and haven’t trained this week,” Hutton confirmed.

“They are very important players to us, so we’ll give them as much time as they need.”

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Micheál Doherty returns from suspension, but may have to do with a place on the bench with new signing Lee Toland impressing last weekend.

The importance of tonight’s game cannot be over-stated. With seven games remaining, Harps trail Waterford – who are joint second with Longford, occupying the two play-off spots – by eight points.

Hutton said: “We’re running out of games, so we need wins – it’s as simple as that.

“We all know the situation now – these games are all cup finals. We need to get the maximum from them all.

“We’re in good spirits and the boys feel that they have turned a corner.”

These teams have plenty of previous and if history tells us anything it should be to expect goals tonight – there hasn’t been a goal-less drawn between them in Ballybofey since 1981.

Hutton said: “Waterford have momentum and they have added quality players, however they found the resources.”

There is a clear frustration from Hutton at recent happenings at the RSC. Waterford are unbeaten in their last five and have recently added Danny Furlong on loan from Cork City, not to mention having signed Cobh’s top scorer Conor Meade, Marco Chindea from St Pat’s and getting Paddy Barrett on loan from Dundee United.

This was a club who were bucket-collection skint and on the cusp of being imposed with a winding-up order weeks ago.

“We are restricted to what we can do with our budget,” Hutton diplomatically responded.

“It’s no coincidence that the top three teams now – Athlone, Longford and Waterford – are those with the biggest budgets.”

Recent weeks have seen an alarming decrease in attendances at Finn Park – but this week Hutton issued a personal rallying call. Less than 200 turned up last Friday to see the 2-0 win over Salthill. The hope must be that Harps keep their play-off aspirations alive for as long as possible to prevent a further slide.

He said: “We have two massive games in the next two weeks and we’d be delighted if a big crowd came out to get behind the team.

“It was no coincidence that you saw an excellent performance in the League Cup against Derry when there was a vocal crowd backing them. They played out of their skins that night.

“It certainly helps players. I know from my time playing that a noisy crowd can really spur you on.

“It was a bit disappointing that the crowds dipped when we were in a good run – but hopefully people will come back now that we still have the play offs in our sights.”

Meanwhile, Hutton hailed the efforts of the Harps Under 17 team who won the Macron Galway Cup last weekend. He said: “We are absolutely delighted with the success – fair play to Eunan Brolly and those who looked after them.

“We have had very good feedback about them – and, very importantly, not just about their playing. We have heard that they conducted themselves very well, which is so important when you’re representing a club like Finn Harps.

“We have started a pathway at the club now. We have been working on this for over a year now. Basically we are trying to turn what was once just a team into a club.”

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