Finn Harps 3 Athlone Town 2
By Chris McNulty at Finn Park
SEAN McCarron and Kevin McHugh took their goalscoring partnership past the twenty-goal barrier tonight as Finn Harps overcame First Division champions Athlone Town at Finn Park.
The front duo struck a goal in each half, in between a strike by American Pat McCann.
Whatever happens over the winter months, there seems certain to be changes both inside and out of the corridors of power on Navenny Street.
It has been a hair-pulling sort of season for the Finn Park faithful, but tonight’s win in the season’s final home game, at least sending them away with a smile. Philip Gorman’s penalty brought Athlone back into it late in the first period while Garbhan Coughlan’s diving header in injury time at the end brought them closer than perhaps they should have been.
With only an away tie at basement side Salthill, McCarron and McHugh have left off where they had started the term.
In the 18th minute, McCarron latched onto Jonny Bonner’s delicate through ball and his prodded effort found the net, just inside Paul Skinner’s far post.
It was the Derryman’s tenth goal of a campaign in which he and Kevin McHugh were threatening to cut loose.
Ninety minutes from the season’s ending and the pair have 21 goals between them, with Harps followers surely wondering what might have been had theirs been a more regular front pairing.
The first half was one that had Skinner exposed in the Athlone net and it was not a comfortable half for the goalkeeper, given a run in place of regular custodian Craig Sexton.
Skinner will be glad the MNS cameras didn’t visit here. He badly misjudged the flight of Lee Toland’s free-kick while under pressure from McHugh and McCann steered into the bottom corner.
In between goals, there was a momentary scare for Harps, as crossed wires between Josh Mailey and Ciaran Gallagher saw the former’s headed pass deceive his goalkeeper, who was glad to see it go behind for a corner.
Athlone found a way back into the game two minutes before the break when, after he was bundled over by Josh Mailey in the box, Philip Gorman stroked the resulting penalty past Gallagher.
These teams had seriously contrasting fortunes since Athlone’s last venture to Ballybofey.
Harps were two points in front of the Midlanders’, whose 3-2 success that night in June was Harps’ first home League defeat of the season.
Athlone came to the North-West three days after being dumped out of the FAI Cup by non-League Bluebell. That win was the catalyst for the unbeaten sequence of 15 games, which saw them capture the First Division title last week.
Harps, meanwhile, had a miserable time of it and had taken just eight points from a possible 45, the club’s worst First Division run since the 1981/82 season.
However, it was Harps – missing suspended trio Ciaran Coll, Damien McNulty and Keith Cowan from their defence – who struck next, ensuring that there was no way back for Roddy Collins’ champions.
Harps had to clap their opponents onto the field, but it was there the pleasantries begun and ended.
Harps made sure of the win in the 64th minute. Sub Graham Kelly had taken Toland down in the box and Simon Rogers, the referee, was quick to point to the spot.
McHugh stepped up and popped a powerful effort into the roof of Skinner’s net.
The Harps captain had an earlier shot deflected wide while McCarron rolled inches thee wrong side of the target after doing well to work a chance.
With the penultimate touch of the game, Coughlan headed past Gallagher from close range.
Manager Peter Hutton watched proceedings from the gantry terrace as he serves a suspension.
Questions remain on whether or not he’ll ever sit in the Harps dugout again.
A 3-1 win for Harps does end the season with a little cheer, but the glowing flares and the boisterous celebrations from the colourful visiting support gave the small home support a reminder of where their own ambitions had been when last they met.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Marty Owens, Josh Mailey, Thomas McMonagle, Lee Toland; Michael Fuston, Shaun McGowan, Pat McCann, Jonny Bonner; Sean McCarron, Kevin McHugh. Subs: Mark Forker for Funston (74 mins), Aaron O’Hagan for McHugh (87 mins), Paul McVeigh for Bonner (89 mins).
Athlone Town: Paul Skinner; Roddy Collins Jnr, Conor McMahon, Aidan Collins, Sean Byrne; Mark Hughes, Garvan Broughall, Barry Clancy, Ian Sweeney; Philip Gorman, Enda Curran. Subs: Graham Kelly for Broughall (half-time), Garbhan Coughlan for Curran (58 mins).
Referee: Simon Rogers (Dublin).