BY CHRIS MCNULTY
PADDY McGrenaghan tells the story of the marathon three weeks in 2006 that remind him now about the endearing and ruthless qualities of Ollie Horgan, the new Finn Harps manager.
McGrenaghan was only a few months back at Fanad United and the Ulster Senior League trophy looked to be absent from Triagh-A-Locha’s locker for a fifth season, an eternity for a club that has success tattooed on its arm.
Kildrum Tigers had completed their season sitting pretty on 67 points and the champagne was all but corked in St Johnston. Fanad had seven games remaining and trailed them by 21 points. Not only did Fanad win those seven games, but they had the upper hand on the Tigers in a memorable Ballyare play-off, Martin McAteer scoring twice as they won a dramatic extra-time thriller.
“That’s the one that sticks out, for the sheer desire and will-to-win the League that Ollie instilled in that dressing room – it was powerful stuff,” says McGrenaghan, who returned to Fanad having left Finn Park for the last time following the final game of the 2005 Premier Division season, a 4-2 defeat by Bray Wanderers in which he came on as a substitute for Fintan Bonner.
“We had seven games left and you’d think that we’d stumble at some stage. Ollie is such a good motivator. People have said it since he was appointed at Harps, but it’s absolutely true the dedication he brings. He had to keep us going to play seven games inside of three weeks and then a play-off. It was madness in terms of fixtures, but Ollie perfected those three weeks.
“We had a very strong mentality and we got the momentum. It was dangerous because there was always a danger you’d slip up. The games were coming thick and fast and it was pretty draining for us, physically and mentally.
“I wasn’t long back at Fanad, but Ollie’s qualities really came out that season at the end.
“I’ve seen in him on the sidelines and in the dressing room. He’s a very passionate manager and his preparation is as meticulous as you’ll find. It’s so detailed.
“He’s well connected from working with the Irish Schoolboys and he’s been about the game. I remember playing Intermediate Cup games and it wouldn’t have mattered who we’d be playing, Ollie would have someone from somewhere with a detailed report on them. Should they have been from the back end of nowhere in Cork, Ollie would have managed to find a contact.
“You can’t train or coach that sort of stuff.”
When McGrenaghan returned to his home club it wasn’t to a bed of roses. Horgan had succeeded Eamon McConigley and the natives were getting restless as a barren few seasons had seen their stranglehold loosened by Quigley’s Point Swifts, Kildrum and Letterkenny Rovers. This was a club, remember, that had won nine Leagues in a row during the 1990s.
“He had to hit the ground running,” McGrenaghan says.
“The pressure was on him. At Fanad, anything less than winning a League was deemed failure at the time.
“Ollie might have inherited a good team of players, but he still had to keep them at Fanad and try to attract the best players in Donegal to the club.”
Horgan led Fanad to three USL League titles, in 2006, 2007 and 2011, with a couple of League Cup and Knockalla Caravans Senior Cup wins thrown in for good measure.
He’d rarely been mentioned in the race to succeed Peter Hutton at Harps, but is the man to whom they’ve turned. And McGrenaghan believes he can make a go of it.
McGrenaghan played some 393 games for Harps, a number that has him listed at third in the all-time appearances chart behind Jonathan Minnock (485) and Jim Sheridan (397). He holds iconic status around Navenny Street, the elusive, sometimes enigmatic, often frustrating player, sprinkled with those genial twists and turns, referred to in a popular refrain as ‘Paddy Rivaldo’, McGrenaghan was a player who was a true cult figure.
Now 37 and playing for Kerrykeel 71 Club in Division 1 of the Donegal League, he doesn’t get to Finn Park as often as he might now, but he keeps a close eye on the results.
“I don’t think people will be expecting miracles, but I don’t think there’s any question about Ollie’s ability,” he says.
“He’ll be well fit for the job. Harps don’t need too much in the way of signings, a couple of players here and there. Ollie is well enough connected to get some new blood in.
“I rate him very highly. It’s just the desire he has. He’s always demanding more from players.
“He plays the cards close to the chest at all times – that’s probably why there was such surprise when he was announced last week.
“He’ll get the best out of the players and he’s the right man at the right time for Harps. I was just chatting to Seamie ‘Coshia’ (Friel) at the weekend and we were agreeing that Ollie is the kind of manager who, if you’d a broken leg he’d have you close to playing!”
McGrenaghan featured in some of Harps’ biggest games, from the first promotion season in 1995-96, the Cup finals of 1999, the play-offs of the Noughties and that epic teeming Saturday in 2004 when they won the First Division.
“Soccer in Donegal needs Harps to be going well,” he says now.
“A Harps team that is going well will get crowds and will get the people behind them. We had some fantastic nights when the place was hopping. To be honest it doesn’t take much to get the place like that. Even last season, you could see the crowds gradually swelling after a few results. The thing about Donegal is that the people want to support Harps and they’ll come out if results are going the right way.”
As for the future at Fanad United, McGrenaghan reckons change was on the cards.
“I think it was inevitable that Ollie was going to leave Fanad and maybe only for the involvement with the Under 19 team he might already have gone,” he says. “Ollie was a fantastic servant to Fanad. They’ll be disappointed to lose him, of course, but he’ll leave with the good wishes of everyone down there.
“There is no real speculation about who’ll take over at Fanad or what’s happening as regards them staying in the USL. The big thing Fanad United always looked to was the Intermediate Cup. With the way the USL season is going now that’s not possible and it’s disappointing.
“Summer football makes it hard. It is the same in the League of Ireland. It was grand until the novelty wore off and only for a couple of wee results in Europe I’d say they’d already be back at a winter season. Clubs like Harps, the rural clubs, have been hit big time.
“I think it’s left a lot of clubs high and dry.”