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Ollie Horgan – the darkest of dark horses

Ollie Horgan and Aidan Campbell.

Ollie Horgan and Aidan Campbell.

BY CHRIS MCNULTY

AS dark horses go, Ollie Horgan is now right up there with Mon Mome.

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At the winning post in the 2009 Grand National, trainer Venetia Williams stood starry-eyed in the glare of the media.

Mon Mome was just about on the bookmakers’ chalkboards. Priced at 100/1, some turf accountants reported just under 2,000 bets having been placed on the nine-year old.

Something remarkable happened: Under Liam Treadwell’s direction, Mon Mome moved into contention and, at just the right time with two fences to go, headed for home, clearing the final flight ahead of Comply or Die and My Will to win.

The first 100/1 shot since Foinavon’s storied win in 1967, winning as the last horse standing when all others fell, Mon Mome had taken the day by storm.

Williams was as taken as anyone.

“How can you ever expect that in a race like this?” she said, adding of the owner Vida Bingham: “It was just unbelievable, the owner was watching the wrong horse for the first part of the race and she thought it was out the back.”

Ollie Horgan had set the bar high in his interview at Finn Harps – so much so that insiders talk of how the ex-Fanad United manager ‘shot the light out’ and one even claimed that Horgan had ‘romped home’ when the die was cast for the final time at a Board meeting late on Monday night.

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Horgan had applied previously for the post but had been undeterred by rejection.

When Peter Hutton stepped down just before the end of the 2013 season, Horgan needed no time to think.

“I jumped at it,” he said.

“Anybody with ambition in football would be mad not to jump at the chance to manage this football club.

“The potential, the support to me and what possibly is out there is enormous.”

Horgan talked about being ‘chuffed’ and ‘honoured’ at having received the call offering him the post.

“It would be, without doubt, one of the best days of my life,” he mentioned. You didn’t find that he was exaggerating, either.

Horgan struck the right notes and it was certainly a polished and positive first night before the local press corps from Horgan, no stranger to the media’s spotlight having been involved in the upper echelons with Fanad in the Ulster Senior League and also having been involved with the Republic of Ireland Schoolboys teams.

Horgan has always been a believer in his teams. Instilling a never-say-die mentality to Fanad was critical in those months when he succeeded Eamon McConigley, who had brought unbridled success to Triagh-A-Locha.

“To me this county has footballers of loads of ability,” he said.

“There are enough to compete at a higher level in the First Division, with or without a high budget.

“Most certainly I have high hopes that we can achieve.”

At Fanad, Horgan immersed himself in the very fabric of the club and he appears intent to do likewise at Harps. One of the first people he spoke to was Pat Floyd, who runs the tuck shop just inside the Navenny Street gate. The small details will be important in the coming weeks and months.

“Be it the tea lady or Chairman of the club I will treat people the same way and, please God, we’ll look onwards and upwards together.”

The together part is the crucial one.

Harps remain a club with huge challenges, with the Chairman – Joey O’Leary – and the Treasurer – Denise O’Neill – both having stepped down and gone unreplaced as yet. The club will hold an AGM early in 2014 and it would not be an over-reaction to state that the next appointment(s) made around Finn Park, this time within the corridors of power, will be the most critical for some time.

The selection process was one of the most professional Harps have ever engineered, but the cavaet with that is that the end result must show that it has been a success.

“By conducting interviews and seeking further information we have done everything possible to try to ensure we get the best person for the job,” club secretary John Campbell said in this newspaper on Monday.

“The quality of the submissions from the candidates really was fantastic. They had a lot of homework done on the club, lots of analysis and differing ideas on what the pathway for the club should be.”

A couple of weeks ago, another of the selection panel – which was not fully represented at Tuesday night’s unveiling – Aidan Campbell left nothing ambiguous when he talked of the requirements for the new manager. “We would be looking to be competitive for the play-offs,” he said. “We do have to be realistic and reasonable in that we’re coming in from a very low base. We don’t expect miracles, but we would expect a significant improvement on our League position.”

It is unfortunate that Harps do not have ‘time’ to afford Horgan and that he effectively needs his success to be instant.

No matter who cut the tape at their winning post, this was always going to be a gamble for Harps. They’ve hedged their bets with the outsider, but one who they believe can keep clearing fences that will come thick and fast.

Given the extensive and exhaustive process for selection, it is they, rather than the manager who should perhaps shoulder the burden of the pressure from here.

And it is very well beneath that sort of backdrop that Ollie Horgan could flourish as the Finn Harps manager.

c.mcnulty@donegalnews.com

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