BY CHRIS MCNULTY
GARY Merritt and Micheál Doherty have left Finn Harps to join Donegal League clubs Milford United and Drumoghill FC ahead of tonight’s First Division clash with Wexford Youths (Ferrycarrig Park, 8pm).
Twenty-year old Merritt has rejoined Milford United, his hometown club and could feature in Sunday’s Donegal League Premier Division game away to St Catherine’s, while twenty-one-year old Doherty is in line to play for Drumoghill when they take on Dunkineeely Celtic in a First Division match at St Johnston.
The transfer window remains opened until September 30th, Monday next, but both players have made their respective moves ahead of the weekend fixtures, thereby ruling them out of contention for tonight’s game in Wexford.
Indeed, both players were in line for starts against Shane Keegan’s team. Harps are without Michael Funston, Ciaran Coll and Kevin McHugh through suspension.
Merritt was the front-runner to take Funston’s berth on the right-hand side of midield while Doherty had been the favourite to start on the left flank with Lee Toland likely to slot back into Coll’s left-back station.
Merritt made 28 appearances, including 19 starts, since making his debut in March 2012 in a League Cup game at home to Mayo League, while Doherty, recruited from Swilly Rovers prior to the start of this season, played 17 times, making six starts, having made his debut in the two-all draw at Mervue in March.
Harps are also missing the injured James Doherty (thigh) for tonight, but Damien McNulty returns from suspension and is likely to go back into the starting XI.
Harps are in danger of having one of their worst ever finishes to a season. With three games remaining, including tonight’s, they are third from bottom – or, in the context of the whole League of Ireland, 17th of 20 clubs. In 1984/85, Harps were 15th of 16 clubs while, in both 1985/86 and 1992/93 they ended the year 19th of 22 clubs.
In 2009 and 2002, Harps ended 18th of 22, they were 19th of 21 in 2011 and 17th of 20 in 2012.
However, Hutton has said that he will much prefer to blood some of the younger, fringe members of his panel rather than targeting positions at this stage of the season.
“I would much prefer for those players to get a couple of games for League experience,” the Harps boss said.
“That is more important for us. That said, I still expect us to win games. It’s about trying to get a balance, but it isn’t as if we’re fielding ‘weakened’ teams – I still feel that we should have enough about us to win games.”
Only three times this season has Hutton been able to retain the same team for back-to-back games. Again tonight there will be changes. Funston and McHugh miss out having accumulated eight yellow cards each, while Coll has been given an additional two games following his red card against Drogheda in the FAI Cup quarter-final.
Hutton himself will watch from the stand for the final three games of the season having had a three-game ban slapped on him by the Disciplinary Control Unit having been ordered from the dugout by referee Tom Connolly after protesting at Coll’s dismissal.
“Ciaran Coll should not be serving a suspension,” Hutton said.
“It’s hard to take. This should be a two-way thing. The officials can dish out suspensions and punishments like this, but it looks like they aren’t accountable to anyone. The reality is that we should be in a Cup semi-final.”
The line-up will again likely be an experimental one with the likes of Jordan Duffy and Shane McGinty again expected to see gametime, while Hutton also name-checked Aaron Harkin and Johnny Bonner as two players who were ‘chomping at the bit’ in training this week.
In McHugh’s absence, there could also be a recall for Sean McCarron with Hutton admitting that his attacking sword was considerably blunt in his captain’s absence.
He said: “That has been our achillies heel all season, that we aren’t scoring enough. We have dominated games, but not taking chances has come back to haunt us so often. We’ve been leading some games and not able to kill them.”