BY CHRIS MCNULTY
THE Finn Harps manager, Ollie Horgan, remains hopeful of capturing the signature of Canadian midfielder Graham Fisher in the coming days.
With the new League of Ireland season to kick-off on Friday night, when Harps host Waterford United at Finn Park (8pm), time is short, but Horgan confirmed that he is keen to sign the 21-year old, who spent some time on the books of the German team Schalke 04, as an Under-19 player, before moving on to Rot Weiss Erfurt.
Fisher has had a trial at Dundalk this closed-season, but it is Horgan who has moved to snap up his services. Following Friday’s friendly in Dundalk, a game Harps lost 3-0, Horgan confirmed that he intends to pursue the matter of securing his services.
“We are looking into it – and I will sign Graham if I can,” Horgan said.
David Shovlin missed the friendly because of an injury and it is not clear whether or not the former Drumkeen United player will be signed.
While Gareth Harkin and Josh Mailey will sit out Friday’s game because of injury, Horgan also has serious concerns over captain Kevin McHugh and Thomas Bonnar, both of whom are struggling with hamstring complaints, although the new manager said both ‘have a chance of being available’ for a match that opens the Galwegian’s tenure as manager.
Elected as the surprise choice to replace Peter Hutton in the Ballybofey hotset in November, Horgan has wasted no time in getting his teeth stuck into the trials and tribulations of League of Ireland management.
The task is one the former Fanad United manager seems to be relishing.
His teams at Fanad were notoriously tough over the years – and the impression is that he wants his Harps sides to be similarly stern in their make-up.
“We want men who want to battle,” he says.
“Myself and James (Gallagher, senior coach) have preached this: We want people who want to be here and who are willing to work. That is especially when things go wrong. We want men willing to come in on Sunday or Monday to get it right.
“We aren’t going making any predictions about where we’re going to finish. We know how difficult it’s going to be. We’re trying to get things steady and get a team in shape that will be difficult to beat.
“We’re not coming out and saying where we’ll be. This will be a tight League. It won’t be for the lack of effort with us anyway. We genuinely don’t know where we’ll be at the end of the season. We will try to get things done as professionally as possible. We will be up against it in games, without doubt, but we will try to compete with them.
“There are teams who will be better fixed than we are. We aren’t hiding that, but we’ll try to get there.”
Horgan has retained a large portion of last year’s panel, although goalkeeper Ciaran Gallagher has gone to Derry City, while Lee Toland and Thomas McMonagle have also appeared on Derry City team-sheets during the pre-season but have not yet been confirmed as having joined the Brandywell outfit, and Shane McGinty, the midfielder from St Johnston, scored for Galway FC in their big win over Mervue on Thursday night.
Conor Winn, a goalkeeper who has been at Galway, Salthill, Mervue, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers, albeit with limited first-team experience, has been signed, while Carel Tiofack, a former Irish underage international, formerly on the books of Ipswich Town, has also joined and there are recalls to Harps for Packie Mailey and Gareth Harkin.
Ruairi Keating, a striker from Sligo Rovers, is on loan, at least until the summer transfer window.
Horgan describes Keating as ‘a new face with a good attitude’.
He said: “He has done well and is very enthusiastic. He wants to be here – that is the type of person we want to have. We want people who want to be in Finn Harps, who want to work and, when things go wrong, are willing to get up the next week to prepare for the next game.
“The likes of Carel are very positive. He’s a positive face, he’s eager to learn and he wants to play for Finn Harps. We want people who have pride in being here.”
Horgan’s ascension to the throne on Navenny Street was predicted nowhere. He was the ultimate dark horse, but then a quick scan through his resume suggests that he had done well to avoid the spotlight.
As the manager of the Republic of Ireland Schools team, his contacts book is vast. He guided Fanad United to numerous League and Cup successes, as well as taking them to an Intermediate Cup semi-final.
In recent seasons, he has been a regular viewer of the League, acting on occasion as a scout for other teams.
He had applied for the Harps job, but rejection then had not deterred him.
Nor has the fact that Harps have not managed to mount a significant challenge since being relegated from the top fligh in 2008.
“There is no quick fix to it, without any shadow of doubt,” he says.
I’m not trying to take the pressure off me by saying that. It will take hard work by the players, by the club, by the staff. Should we get that in place – and that’s what we’re looking for immediately – then we will slowly, but surely turn things around.
“Time will tell. It depends on what way the results go.
“We are going into it fairly blind. We have no expectation and the players will be under no pressure as regard where we finish in that table. We’ll see how it goes.
“I knew most of the players from before, I’d have worked with them at some level. I’ve taken a few new faces in. I know what I have.
“The welcoming I got at the club was second to none, but that little honeymoon season is well and truly over now. We’re well into the hard work – and it is hard work. I knew it was going to be a challenge. It’s busy. You’re on the go a fair amount of trouble and I’ve no problem doing that hard work.”
Horgan feels that the 2014 version could be a real dogfight in the First Division.
He said: “With Shelbourne being relegated into the First Division and with Galway FC coming on board it’s a stronger League than it has been. We need to get stronger even from where we were. It will be a tighter League.”
The recruitment of James Gallagher as the club’s senior coach also came as a surprise, given that the Meenlarragh man was the manager at Finn Park prior to the Felix Healy-Peter Hutton partnership.
However, Horgan sees it as a real coup.
He said: “I took the time to look for people I could trust, people with experience, people with the same ideas as I had. James ticks every boxes. He’s a huge help to me and a huge help to the team. He’s been there before and was in with Derry where he gained a lot of experience.”