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.”