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Finn Harps facing possible defensive dilemma ahead of Shelbourne clash

Damien McNulty. Photo: Gary Foy

Damien McNulty. Photo: Gary Foy

BY CHRIS MCNULTY

FINN Harps could be running short of defensive supplies when they face First Division leaders Shelbourne at Finn Park on Friday night (kick-off 8pm).

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Caoimhin Bonner will serve an automatic one-match suspension following his sending off during last week’s one-all draw against Galway FC, while Damien McNulty is considered a doubt, owing to a hand injury that will be assessed ahead of the visit of Alan Matthews’ Reds.

McNulty sustained the injury during the game at Eamonn Deacy Park on Friday and while he trained on Sunday morning with the squad, the problem flared up with Harps boss Ollie Horgan hopeful that the examinations on the teak-tough McNulty don’t show up any breakage.

Ciaran Coll is regarded as ‘a slight doubt’, but Horgan expects the St Johnston man to take up his sentry at left-back. Coll was taken to Galway Regional Hospital by ambulance after shipping a heavy blow to his side ten minutes from the end of the game. Initial fears that he had suffered kidney damage were eased with bruised ribs the extent of the harm.

Coll, who has been filling in as the team captain in the continued absence of Kevin McHugh, is likely to lead Harps out for their game against the title favourites, having taken a part in training on Tuesday night.

“That’s us down a lot of defenders in the one go,” Horgan said.

Horgan is limited for options on the right side of his defence. McNulty, who has been having a storming season so far, is the natural choice, although Thomas Bonner and Josh Mailey have both played there in their time.

Harps confirmed Doherty’s departure in a statement on Tuesday night, the Kilmacrennan man having informed the manager of his decision prior to training on Sunday, citing work and personal reasons for his departure, ending an association with Harps that goes back to the 2006 season when he made the first of 116 appearances against Kilkenny City.

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“After so many years here naturally I am disappointed to be leaving, but I felt I had to be honest with myself and the club,” Doherty said.

“I am a player who likes to give 100 per cent dedication and my work and personal situation doesn’t allow for that at the moment.  I would like to thank everyone at Finn Harps for the great experience I have, and I intend to be a regular visitor at Finn Park when I can.

“I would also like to say that I feel Ollie, James and staff have put together the most professional training and preparation regime I have seen at the club, and I hope everyone will give them their backing over the coming seasons.”

Doherty’s departure is likely to alert the radar of Letterkenny Rovers and Swilly Rovers in the Ulster Senior League, for whom a player of his experience would be a timely boost come the summer transfer window.

Horgan said: “James approached me and was typically very honest about his current situation and his problem giving the time and commitment required for senior football. He is a very popular figure around the club and the lad is Harps through and through.

“To be fair, James had been thinking about it for quite a while and he had his mind made up. I did try to change his mind, but he had been considering it and I had to respect his decision.”

McHugh made his first competitive appearance in over two months when he played an hour for the Harps Reserves in Sunday’s 3-0 loss to Swilly Rovers in the USL. The Killea man is in contention to be in the matchday squad on Friday night having reported no ill effects following Sunday’s game, but the experienced striker is unlikely to be included from the start against a Shels side that leads the way by eight points.

Harps are bottom-bar-one, but are just three points off second-from-top Wexford Youths.

Since losing two-nil to Shelbourne at the beginning of April, Harps have won just once – the 2-0 away win at Cobh.

Horgan said: “They kicked on in one direction and we went the other way. The fact that we didn’t have attackers available that night – or in the next number of weeks – didn’t help (Harps were without Ruairi Keating, Sean McCarron and McHugh for that game). Now, it’s at the other end of the field that we’re losing our cover. We’ll give it a lash and see where it takes us.

“These are all tough games. The Shamrock Rovers B game (one Harps lost 1-0) was as tough as any we’ve had.

“Shelbourne have quality. Brian Gannon, Philly Hand, Keith Quinn and Jordan Keegan have all played at a higher level. They’re Premier Division players. That is the quality they have. A last-minute goal in a loss to Wexford is the only defeat they’ve had. It’s an incredible run they’re on. They have great confidence, but they have a right to be – they’re an excellent team. They’re very strong down the middle and they have some top players.”

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