FINN HARPS 2 UCD 2
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT FINN PARK
KEVIN McHugh’s 85th minute equaliser put Finn Harps seven points clear at the top of the First Division on a history-making night in Ballybofey.
McHugh’s precious header from Raymond Foy’s corner stretched Harps’ lead over Wexford by a point with Wexford’s game against Athlone having been abandoned.
It’s now twelve games without defeat for Ollie Horgan’s men – a new club record. Only twice previoulsy – in the 1972/73 and 1983/84 seasons – had a Harps team started a campaign with an eleven-game unbeaten streak.
The weight of history and the presence of the biggest crowd of the season down Navenny Street rest heavily on Harps shoulders and the hosts trailed twice. However, goals by Ruairi Keating and McHugh cancelled out the strikes of Jack Watson and Robbie Benson in a dramatic finale.
UCD took the lead in the 57th minute. Ryan McLaughlin swept a magnificent ball around the corner and with Ciaran Gallagher having halted his run out of the goal Watson’s majestic lob found the back of the net.
Harps equalised on 66 minutes when Keating superbly glanced a header beyond the reach of Niall Corbet from 12 yards having connected to Damien McNulty’s diagonal cross.
It looked ominous for Harps seven minutes from time when Benson was put through by Samir Belhout and he held off McNulty’s challenge before firing past Gallagher.
However, McHugh – on as a 69th minute substitute – hit a priceless equaliser and Matthew Crossan was close to winning it with a header in the dying moments, but as things had panned out the home side will settle for a share of the spoils.
Early on, Harps rode their luck and it took a superb save from Gallagher to prevent UCD from breaking the deadlock in the tenth minute. After Benson’s free kick cannoned off Michael Funston, Michael Leahy’s first-time effort was brilliantly saved by Gallagher, reaching full-lenth out to his right to beat it away.
Watson flew one attempt over the crossbar while Jamie Doyle saw another creep narrowly wide before Funston came close to a third spectacular opener in as many weeks.
Having done so against Waterford United and Cobh Ramblers in each of Harps’ last two outings, Funston wasn’t far off a hat-trick of goal-of-the-season contenders, only for a 35-yard dipper to just miss the top corner.
Doyle tried his luck with a back header, but it was too close to Gallagher from Benson’s hooked ball into the box.
Foy – who netted a 90th minute winner against Cobh Ramblers last week – was wide from the edge of the box while the best chance for Harps in the opening period fell to Keating in the final minute of the half.
Keating made the chance himself with a neat touch in the box, but Corbet got down to make the save.
The on-loan Sligo Rovers striker should have put the home side in front eight minutes into part two. McNulty’s ball in was touched into his path by Foy, but Keating’s left-footed shot spun up and over.
The injured Ciaran Coll was replaced by Regan Donelon in the only change to the Harps XI from the win over Cobh. With Keith Cowan suspended, it meant that Harps were down two of their first choice rearguard.
It was no great surprise when Watson shot the Students ahead – but Harps were soon back on level terms as Keating flicked home to the delight of the big home support.
Those same supporters feared the worst when Benson netted UCD’s second, but skipper McHugh ensured the golden start continued.
FINN HARPS: Ciaran Gallagher; Josh Mailey, Damien McNulty, Tommy McMonagle, Matthew Crossan, Regan Donelon; Wilfried Tagbo, Michael Funston, Raymond Foy, Gareth Harkin; Ruairí Keating. Subs: Kevin McHugh for Tagbo (69 mins), Tony McNamee for Harkin (83 mins).
UCD: Niall Corbet; Mark Langty, Michael Leahy, Tomas Boyle, Ryan McLaughlin; Samir Belhour, Robbie Benson, Dylan Watts, Jack Watson, Jamie Doyle; Conor Cannon. Subs: Gary O’Neill for Watson (57 mins), Chris Mulhall for Cannon (73 mins).
REFEREE: Eoghan O’Shea (Tipperary).