FINN HARPS 1 SHELBOURNE 0
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT FINN PARK
HOW often has it been the story – Kevin McHugh the hero of the hour for Finn Harps?
The Killea man scored the landmark 180th goal of his Harps career with an 80th minute penalty to give Ollie Horgan’s side a win over Shelbourne that keeps them five clear at the top of the First Division.
Raymond Foy tumbled over in the area and the referee, Rhona Daly, pointed instantly to the spot. McHugh stepped forth and stroked the ball into the bottom corner of the Town End net.
As Daly’s final whistle sounded the majority of the 964 attendance at Finn Park erupted. Rarely in recent years has the old place felt as vibrant on a night when Harps continued what has been best start to a season since the 1983/84 campaign.
Ciaran Gallagher’s clean sheet was his seventh in the eight games to date, although there were some nervy moments.
Harps made a purposeful beginning with Keith Cowan’s daisy-cutter whizzing just past the post before Raymond Foy shot into the arms of ‘keeper Greg Murray when McHugh’s magnificent pass found Keating on the edge of the box.
Brian McGroary forced Murray into tipping over from a cross-cum-shot and the busy Shelbourne goalkeeper did well to thwart McHugh at point-blank range as the Killea man went to connect to Gareth Harkin’s cross.
Cowan nodded wide at the far post having got on the end of a Josh Mailey cross and there was a sense around an expectant Finn Park that it was to be their night.
The had a real let-off six minutes before the break as Ciaran Coll’s attempted clearance cannoned off Craig Walsh and past Ciaran Gallagher, only for Cowan hooked clear.
With Wilfried Tagbo suspended following his red card in the 1-0 win over Wexford last weekend, club captain McHugh returned to the starting XI, with Damien McNulty and McGroary restored in place of Michael Funston and Matthew Crossan.
Kevin Doherty’s Shels arrived in Ballybofey with his Shelbourne squad missing Simon Dixon, Dave Ryan, Alan Kehoe and Jack Brady, but the Drumcondra residents were dangerous on the break and they came within a whisker of taking the lead six minutes into the second half.
From Mark Sandford’s delivery, Walsh enterprisingly flicked goalward, but Harkin cleared at the back post.
Horgan regularly clocks up an outrageous amount of road miles in the job – and the Harps boss only returned this morning from Edinburgh where he was coach to the Republic of Ireland Schoolboys team who drew 1-1 with Scotland last night.
The Harps physio, Mickey McGlynn, and the replacement goalkeeper, Lee McCarron, were also part of the traveling Irish contingent for the Centenary Shield clash.
The lively Keating twice tried his luck in the early moments of the second half, but a speculative left-footed effort flew wide before he hit the side netting when teed up by Harkin’s through ball.
As McHugh saw a fine shot sail just over, the crowd’s decibel level began to rise and when the 35-year-old hit man stuck home what proved to be the match-winner it reached heights that haven’t been heard around Navenny Street in quite some time.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Damien McNulty, Keith Cowan, Thomas McMonagle, Ciaran Coll; Brian McGroary, Josh Mailey, Raymond Foy, Gareth Harkin; Kevin McHugh, Ruairí Keating. Subs: Regan Donelon for McGroary (44 mins), Michael Funston for Harkin (70 mins), Matthew Crossan for McHugh (84 mins).
Shelbourne: Greg Murray; Adam O’Connor, Paul Andrews, Sean Heaney, Evan Osam; Gareth Coughlan, Jake Donnelly, Colm Crowe, Paul Andrews, Conor Earley; Mark Sandford. Subs: Dylan McGlade for Earley (67 mins), Philip Hughes for Donnelly (82 mins).
REFEREE: Rhona Daly (Roscommon).