BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT FINN PARK
OLLIE Horgan had been in enough Fanad United dressing rooms to appreciate the sort of upsets these nights can conjure up.
When he appeared in the tearoom at the rear of the stand at Finn Park, where his post-match media briefings are now conducted, on Monday night Horgan was counting stars after his Finn Harps survived a late scare against Cockhill Celtic.
The Ulster Senior League side ensured there were few early leavers when Aidan O’Donnell’s 85th minute strike set up a grandstand finish. Harps appeared home and hosed when Ruairi Keating made it 3-1 in the 73rd minute with his first goal for the club.
Substitute James Bradley was sent off – having been on the field for only five minutes – just after Malachy McDermott, the recently crowned FAI Intermediate Player of the Year, registered for the Inishowen men and the pendulum was firmly at Harps’ side.
When O’Donnell pounced, Horgan was thankful for the two early goals, a Sean McCarron strike on 90 seconds and an o.g by Liam O’Donnell.
“We just scraped through,” the Harps manager reflected.
“We were hanging on there, albeit against ten men, which obviously is something for us to work on. Everyone knew it wouldn’t be easy against Cockhill.
“It could have gone the other way, had they equalised in the last couple of minutes, extra-time et cetera. We got through it and that’s the most important thing.
“I know them as well as anyone and I know what Cockhill bring to the table. It was a difficult game.
“We aren’t of a standard where we can dismiss any intermediate team and certainly not Cockhill.”
Harps ought to have made it a night of more comfort, but Cockhill are a side of lofty ambition, still hurt by the manner of their Intermediate Cup exit at the hands of St Mochta’s in January.
They made it a night of angst for Harps as the clocked ticked towards the red time.
“My disappointment is the amount of set pieces that we gave away, needlessly,” Horgan observed.
“Delivery after delivery from Gerry Gill caused us no end of problems and that is where my disappointment is. We weren’t cute enough at the end. We did see out the game, but we made it very difficult for ourselves.
“We nearly paid the price, but we got away with it.
“We’re delighted to get through against a serious Cockhill side. It was always going to be a struggle.
“It’s great to go through to the next round. There was never going to be much in it.”
Donal O’Brien, meanwhile, was left to reflect on what might have been. The Cockhill manager made no excuses for Bradley, dismissed having hurled the ball in the direction of referee, Paul Duddy.
“He shouldn’t have thrown the ball at the referee,” O’Brien said, sternly.
“He was right to argue, I thought it was a free for us and I thought Conor Keddy was fouled, but he gave it the other way. He could argue his point, but he shouldn’t have thrown the ball. I’ve no complaints.”
O’Brien has urged his side to take momentum from a strong second-half performance into their Ulster Senior League campaign.
The former Harps midfielder saw his team narrowly beaten by his old club. The 2013 double winners look well poised to mount an assault for the big prizes again this season. O’Brien has added full-back Seanan McColgan to his ranks and hopes to have former Derry City conscript Seamus Sharkey included in the coming days.
“I’ve told the boys that we need to build from that second half against Finn Harps,” O’Brien said.
“I’ve always said that if you aren’t playing senior football, the Ulster Senior League is the place to play. It’s a very good League.
“If you’re a young boy doing well in the Ulster Senior League and the opportunity to go to Harps comes along, there should be no holding back. Players should aspire to the League of Ireland. That’s what I try to do with my boys.
“We need to go on from there and we’re ready to start the League. They’re a good bunch and they love the underdog tag. We had a few set pieces late on and we started to push.
“There is no bother with our lads’ fitness. They are never out-run and that told at the end, even with ten men we kept going. If we’d had an extra man on I think we could have won it.”