FINN HARPS 1 DROGHEDA UNITED 1
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT FINN PARK
IT was close, ever so close, but Finn Harps were cruelly denied a place in the FAI Cup semi-finals by a late Mick Daly goal at Finn Park on Friday night.
The 170th goal of Kevin McHugh’s Finn Harps career in the first half had injected a real sense of excitement among the biggest crowd of the season at the venue.
As a pulsating and sometimes feisty Cup tie was nearing its conclusion, the sense was that ten-man Harps – who had Ciaran Coll controversially sent off in the 56th minute – were headed for the last four.
Harps were on the threshold of a place in what would have been a first semi-final since those dizzy days of 1999, only for Daly to set up a replay at Hunky Dory Park on Monday night.
While Sean McCarron will return from suspension, Harps will be without Coll, after his dismissal eleven minutes into the second half.
The St Johnston man saw red for his part in an off-the-ball clash involving David Cassidy. While Coll had reacted to Cassidy, the feeling is that a booking would more than have sufficed for the reaction was not one with much malice.
Referee Tom Connolly, however, brandished red, following consultation with his fourth official, Rob Rogers. The decision drew howls of frustration from a passionate crowd, who were joined by Peter Hutton in the stand after the Harps manager’s irate and incensed reaction to the decision saw him banished.
Hutton and the team captain, McHugh, late expressed clear anger at the incident on a night when it was pointed out to reporters that Damien McNulty had two teeth knocked out and Michael Funston had sustained a suspected broken nose following separate off-the-ball incidents.
Despite playing the final 34 minutes with a man down, Harps were holding out well – until, that is, they were hit by a sucker punch five minutes from time.
Sub Paul McVeigh had his mis-hit attempt at a through ball to McHugh intercepted by Jason Marks. Drogs broke and David Cassidy squared for Daly to net the equaliser.
The goal was a much-needed boost for the Drogs after a week when the club announced it would not be renewing manager Mick Cooke’s contract, while player Gary O’Neill was diagnosed with testicular cancer – and players wore special t-shirts in his honour last night.
In a riveting Cup tie, the hosts took a shock lead in the 22nd minute.
McHugh and Thomas McMonagle worked the space before the Harps skipper delightfully found the top corner of Michael Slingermann’s net for his 170th Harps goal – and this one was close to the top of his charts.
Early on, Funston and McNulty both forced saves from Slingermann in a bright start.
Drogheda had looked threatening themselves and it took a fine save from Ciaran Gallagher to keep the stalemate intact, the Harps ‘keeper brilliantly turning Gavin Brennan’s free over the bar.
Gallagher got out bravely to thwart Ryan Brennan, but it was Harps who had the best chances of the opening half.
Just a minute after McHugh’s goal, Coll got in behind, but Slingermann saved well before the busy Drogheda goalkeeper denied Pat McCann with a double save.
Leading through McHugh’s sumptuous strike, Harps were on the verge of edging it, until Daly denied them a famous win.
The reactions at the end told their own stories: Drogheda clearly relieved to be still in the Cup; Harps gutted at having been within mere minutes of the semis.
FINN HARPS: Ciaran Gallagher; Damien McNulty, Josh Mailey, Keith Cowan, Thomas McMonagle; Michael Funston, Shaun McGowan, Pat McCann, Thomas Bonnar, Ciaran Coll; Kevin McHugh. Subs: Mark Forker for Bonnar (62 mins), Paul McVeigh for Funston (76 mins).
DROGHEDA UNITED: Michael Slingermann; Mick Daly, Alan McNally, Derek Prendergast, Shane Grimes; David Cassidy, Alan Byrne, Paul O’Connor, Ryan Brennan, Gavin Brennan; Declan O’Brien. Subs: Jason Marks for G Brennan (55 mins), Peter Hynes for Grimes (64 mins), Eric Foley for McNally (80 mins).
REFEREE: Tom Connolly (Dublin).