BY CHRIS MCNULTY
OLLIE Horgan says the next month will give him a true reading about the quality of his squad.
Last Friday’s five-nil win saw Harps edge ahead of Shelbourne on goal difference at the top of the table, but with only three games gone in the season the manager is urging caution ahead of a big month for his team that begins on Saturday night with a home game against Galway FC (Finn Park, kick-off 7.45pm).
Horgan is still without the services of strikers Kevin McHugh and Sean McCarron. The pair hit twenty-one goals between them last season, but in their absence the likes of Ruairi Keating, Pat McCann and Carel Tiofack have given Harps the attacking impetus.
While McCarron will be sidelined until the middle of May having suffered a broken cheekbone, McHugh could be back in harness for next Friday’s away game against Shelbourne. Horgan anticipates that Keating will have a suspenion awaiting for the trip to Tolka Park, making McHugh’s return imperative.
“We’re looking at the Shelbourne game for Kevin’s return – hopefully he’ll be on track for that,” Horgan said.
Gareth Harkin, back at the club having been in Australia for the past two years, remains out with a hamstring injury and a return-target of next Friday has also been set for the left-sided player.
Ciaran Coll and Keith Cowan picked up knocks last Friday in the win over Cobh, although both are expected to be passed fit to face Galway.
Caoimhin Bonner has signed for the club, but has yet to recieve an international clearance certificate from the Football Association of Ireland. The 21-year old defender, who hails from Derry, was released by Kilmarnock in January and Harps are hoping to get the green light for his signature.
Although Harps officials are concerned that the transfer window is currently closed, FAI insiders have informed this newspaper that Bonner should be given the go-ahead as he has been classed as ‘out of work’ since his release from Kilmarnock in mid-January.
“We have applied for international clearance, but we’re awaiting for it to be issued,” Horgan said of Bonner, who is comfortable at right-back or centre-back.
“He has signed for the club and is a Finn Harps player. He’s injured at the moment, though, and would be a couple of weeks away from being match fit. He’s a good honest lad. Hopefully we can get the clearance certificate though. That would give us an option or two more, a bit more leeway.”
Galway, one of the new teams in the Airtricity League this season, are under Tommy Dunne’s management and have in Shane McGinty – a native of St Johnston – and Marty Owens, two players who were on the Harps roster last season.
Galway have yet to score a League goal, losing 1-0 to Longford and having scoreless draws against Waterford United and Shamrock Rovers B. However, Horgan is not fooled by those numbers.
“Galway have serious potential,” the Harps manager insisted.
“Galway have a lot of top players. They’re top class and if they happen to hit the ground running then we will be in big bother. I saw them twice in pre-season and they were excellent, especially the day they beat Sligo Rovers 3-2. That was no makeshift Sligo team either. They have such natural ability.
“We have to make sure that we stop them from hitting the ground running.
“But the likes of Vinny Faherty, Ryan Connolly and Jason Molloy have all played at the top level in Ireland and are top players.”
Another player familiar to Horgan is the striker Ryan Manning, who is the captain of the Republic of Ireland Schools team managed by Horgan. On Friday night, Horgan’s Schools team are in action in the Centenary Shield against England at Ashton Gate, the home of Bristol City.
Horgan said: “Ryan is the best player in the country at his age group; a class act.”
Harps’ start to the season has been promising, but Horgan believes the next month will tell a tale.
He said: “The next four games – Galway, Shelbourne, Wexford and Longford – will tell us exactly where we are. To be honest, I don’t think that we’re anywhere near where I’d like us to be. The League will level out over the next few games and after the next four fixtures we’ll have a better reading of it. The next month is a big one.”