Finn Harps 1 Cobh Ramblers 1
by Chris McNulty at Finn Park
THE equalising goal here felt like a knife had been just pierced through the very heart of Finn Park.
John Meade’s leveller came in the 91st minute, right when it appeared as if Kevin McHugh’s earlier opener would be enough to send Harps into the quarter-finals for the first time since 2003. Instead of that, they now face the horror six-hour trek to Cobh for a replay at St Colman’s Park on Monday.
Harps, deploying a 4-5-1 formation with McHugh at its tip, failed to add to the Killea man’s strike and would pay the ultimate price for a second half display that saw them sit tight on their lead in an attempt to protect what they had.
As the clock ticked into added-on time there came the wretched footnote in the tale that was almost a personification of the season. Harps had been in a promising position themselves, only to lose possession and, as Cobh countered, the home side gave away a needless free kick close to the left touchline.
Davin O’Neill’s teasing, curling deliver whizzed across the danger zone and Meade got the faintest of touches to zip a header past Ciaran Gallagher. Finn Park fell silent and the realisation dawned that two trips to Cobh await in the coming week.
“Bitterly disappointed that we couldn’t put ourselves in the hat, but I thought that we got what we deserved,” said a clearly exasperated Peter Hutton.
“I thought in the second half that we were very poor. In the first half we weren’t too bad. We had some good passages of play, we created some good chances, but again we didn’t take them and we lacked a bit of composure in and around the penalty box. We snatched at a few chances.
“We were very poor in the second half and we sat far too deep all over the park, invoted them on. They had a plethora of bodies up against us and were looking for second balls in percentage football.
“Unfortunately they got a free kick at the end that we didn’t deal with. We gave away the ball too cheaply, particularly outside their box, even prior to the free kick. We should have kept the ball a lot better.”
Harps had plenty of opportunities to put the lid upon this Cup tie, but the longer the game went on the more you could sense the sucker punch was about to land.
Hutton feels the needle is stuck on the vinyl by now – and has warned his players that he’ll change the record if needs be.
He said: “I know I keep harping on and saying them same thing, but if the penny isn’t going to drop then players will have to move on because you can’t legislate for making the same mistakes over and over again in the course of a season.”
The warnings shots had been fired, too. Three minutes from time, O’Neill looked to have drew the teams level, but Ciaran Coll stepped in with a timely intervention, heading clear off the goal-line.
“It was a great clearance,” Hutton said, “but as a team we sat back. Maybe it’s because the guys have had their confidence rocked of late, but they were too complacent. They probably just wanted to keep Cobh out, but it’s disappointing the way it ended.”
The way it had begun was in stark contrast.
Just seven minutes had gone when McHugh neted the 169th goal of his Harps career. The Killea man was picked out by a throw-in from Michael Funston and, from a tight angle close to the byline, lobbed over the Shane Hallahan. A Cup winner in 2006 with Derry City, McHugh’s goal looked like it would be the only difference, but in truth Harps ought to have been more comfortable.
McHugh is the only Harps player to have played in an FAI Cup quarter-final, but if his team don’t turn Cobh over tonight they will reflect on a first half in which they really should have put the tie to bed.
Mark Forker returned from suspension and was reinstated, as was Johnny Bonner, with Paul McVeigh and Lee Toland the men making way.
McHugh did well to work a chance in the 22nd minute with a clever turn of feet, but his shot was charged out for a corner, from which Harps tried again, only for Hallahan to get down to save Forker’s bottom corner-bound shot.
McHugh curled wide and Bonner’s low effort was inches wide from 18 yards. Michael Funston – and the majority of those inside Finn Park – thought he’d made it 2-0, but a well-struck shot in the 39th minute clipped off Anthony O’Donnell on the way out.
Cobh made the six-hour jaunt to Ballybofey with only fourteen players named on their team sheet. Dave Hill’s side had only won once away from home all season – their previous round win over St Patrick’s CY.
They weren’t without their moments and the hosts had some anxiety when, first, Martin Deady forced Ciaran Gallagher into a strong save and, then, in the final minute of the half, when Alan O’Flynn’s soaring header flashed wide.
The second half was passing without incident until Roy Kenny’s effort sailed over, issuing a timely reminder to the hosts about the potential pitfalls of protecting a one-goal lead.
Just when they looked to have skated without a crack, the ice shattered and Meade’s header brought Finn Park to a hush. The frustration was understandable for this had been a night that was supposed to have breathed some life into their season. Now, it hangs by a thread in St Colman’s Park on Monday evening.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; James Doherty, Thomas McMonagle, Keith Cowan, Ciaran Coll; Michael Funston, Pat McCann, Shaun McGowan, Mark Forker, Jonny Bonner; Kevin McHugh. Subs: Lee Toland for Bonner (66 mins), Paul McVeigh for McHugh (83 mins), Josh Mailey for McMonagle (83 mins).
Cobh Ramblers: Shane Hallahan; Brendan Frahill, Sean O’Mahony, John Meade, Anthony O’Donnell; Alan O’Flynn, Roy Kenny, Andrew Bharndarker, Martin Deady; Davin O’Neill, Kynan Rocks. Subs: Owen Hastings for O’Mahony (25 mins), Jonathan Spillane for O’Flynn (66 mins), Daniel Sentry for Bharndarker (68 mins).
Referee: Ray Matthews (Westmeath)