BY CHRIS MCNULTY
REGAN Donelon had little time to prepare himself for his first start at Finn Park as a Finn Harps player.
At around 6.30 last Friday evening at the pre-game team meeting in the Villa Rose Hotel, Harps manager Ollie Horgan read the eleven he was sending into battle against UCD.
The previous night, Ciaran Coll fell ill with a virus and any hopes he had of lining out were scuppered when a Friday morning visit to the doctor concluded with the St Johnston man dispatched back to his bed by the GP.
There was a vacancy. Donelon, after three previous starts away from home, and just 45 minutes of action at Finn Park, was in.
The on-loan Sligo Rovers player acquitted himself well during the two-all draw that pushed Harps seven points clear of second-placed Wexford as well as maintaining the nine-point distance to UCD in third.
“I never had any doubt about Regan’s ability,” Horgan said after a pulsating fixture, during which Harps twice came from a goal down.
“He’s played in more away games than home games alright. None of the boys got a cross in against him tonight so that says a lot and he gave us a lot of width. It’s great to see him stepping up to the mark.”
Donelon certainly fitted in seamlessly to the team and the 19-year-old, while understandably wanting more game time, has been fairly happy with how his spell in Ballybofey has been going.
“It was nice to get in from the start after a while being out of the team,” he said.
“It was good to get the chance again. I only knew that I was playing when we went in for the team meeting, but I was happy enough with my performance. It took me a while to get into it, but it was an alright performance.
“There was a good crowd in for the game. The bigger the crowd, the better. It’s a sign that we must be doing something right. The big crowd can bring pressure, but you can’t let that pressure get to you. I’ve been enjoying it here. I haven’t been getting as much game time as I’d like to, but I just have to keep working hard – that’s all I can do. When a team is going well, like we are, it’s always hard to break into it from the bench.”
The 19-year-old is Manchester-born, but made his name with Stella Maris, playing in the Dublin and District Schoolboys League (DDSL). He was snapped up by Sligo and joined their Under-19 squad in 2013. He was the regular left-back and an excellent campaign resulted in his elevation to the first-team squad. After playing against Derry City in the League Cup and making his League debut against Bray Wanderers as a sub, he made his first League start against Limerick FC. Last summer, Donelon was a part of the Bit O’Red squad for the Europa League games against Norwegian giants Rosenborg.
He travels to Donegal once a week along with fellow loanee Ruairi Keating for training, but the rest of his week is spent with Sligo.
He said: “At the start of the season, Owen Heary (the Sligo manager) called me into his office and said that he wanted to said me out on loan. I thought that it was a good chance and it’s been a good move. I would have heard about Ollie, but never met him.
“Ruairi was coming up here too which was a big help. It’s nice when you know someone else.
“We train with Sligo every day. What more could you want? It’s a great set-up at Sligo.”
His loan deal will conclude at the end of June and, for now, he’s noncommittal as regards a possible extension. He said: “We’ll see. I don’t know what’s going to happen. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to stay on with the team going well.”
In each of the last three games, Harps have struck in the dying moments. Two weeks ago, Keating netted a late winner for a 3-2 triumph over Waterford, Josh Mailey and Raymond Foy turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 win in Cobh, while Kevin McHugh netted an 85th minute equaliser against UCD last Friday.
Donelon, a Republic of Ireland international at under-16, under-18 and under-19 level, said: “There’s great character in the team. We showed that with the late goals in the last three weeks. The attitude is pretty good – it’s never-say-die. Everyone just lifts everyone and just gets on with it. We know that we’re all pulling together.”
With the summer transfer window opening this Sunday, July 1, the Harps boss is instead content to spend every...