BY CHRIS MCNULTY
WHEN Athlone Town last visited Ballybofey, there was more pleasant feeling around Finn Park.
The month was June and Harps lost 3-2 that night.
Just two points separated the teams as Athlone came to the North-West for that clash. Harps were still full of hope for the remainder of the campaign.
This evening, Harps will be expected to form a guard of honour either side of the tunnel at Finn Park to applaud their opponents onto the field, for their first competitive game since they won the First Division last Friday night.
Collins has guided Athlone to the top flight for the first time since their relegation in 1996. In 1995, Athlone survived via a play-off win over Harps.
Their paths this season have taken entirely different directions.
Harps enter the final two games of the season with only Salthill Devon beneath them, they are 28 points adrift of Athlone now and the previous fifteen League games has seen them claim just eight points from a possible 45.
“They went on a fantastic unbeaten run and the runs since have really showed the difference in the way the two teams have gone,” Harps manager Peter Hutton said.
“We were leading and we threw away the lead twice and let them back into the game.”
Harps are away to Salthill Devon next Friday night and the curtain will then be drawn on a forgettable season by the Finn.
Tonight is Harps’ final home game – and Hutton would dearly love to earn a little positivity.
He said: “It’s our final home game of the season so we’d like to finish on a positive note.
“It’s the least we can do for the supporters to be quite honest is to go and give them something to cheer about.
“The players, too, would like to go into the winter break on a positive note. We’d at leats like to give a good account of ourselves.”
Ciaran Coll is suspended for the game with the St Johnston man having been slapped with two additional games following a red card against Drogheda United in the FAI Cup quarter-final. Damien McNulty misses out as a result of his red card in the replay, while Keith Cowan is absent after being sent off in last week’s 3-1 defeat by Wexford.
The absentees mean that Hutton is threadbare in defence, though James Doherty played Monday’s Ulster Senior League game against Fanad and came through unscathed. Jordan Duffy seems likely to be absent tonight after going over badly on an ankle on Monday.