FROM CHRIS MCNULTY IN WATERFORD
THESE were the moments for which Finn Harps signed Sean McCarron.
His 89th minute goal on Friday night secured what might well prove to be a golden point for Peter Hutton’s side.
Harps were seemingly heading for an opening night defeat as Waterford held a slender lead thanks to Ben Ryan’s 19th minute goal, when McCarron pounced on a long ball that ended in his path thanks to a clever dummy from Marc Brolly.
McCarron took receipt of the ball just inside the Waterford area and, from the left-hand side, unleashed a powerful effort that flew across the goalkeeper, Craig Hyland, and into the net.
It was sheer instinct.
It was the perfect way for the Derryman’s second coming as a Finn Harps player and it was the perfect beginning, too, for Harps in a season they hope will have them challenging at the business end of the First Division.
With back-to-back home games against Cobh Ramblers and Longford Town, a one-all draw with the title favourites can be jotted down as a good night at the office that should set up a decent attendance with which to boost the coffers this Friday night.
McCarron’s goal felt like a match-winner given the context in which it was scored: the opening night of the season at the home ground of a club that just missed out on promotion following defeat in last season’s play-off against Dundalk.
McCarron had spent some time in training with Harps when Felix Healy and Hutton took over the club in May 2011. Indeed, attempting to sign McCarron was one of their first acts.
McCarron had been sparkling in the Ulster Senior League, where he enjoyed a stint with Kildrum Tigers, but a player of his calibre was never going to stay at Intermediate level.
Complications over his registration meant that he was limited to some friendly game time at Harps, but now he’s back at Finn Park with intent.
A player who had spent time with Derry City during Stephen Kenny’s reign, the 21-year old was always a player who had potential, but a disagreement with Kenny meant it wouldn’t be fulfilled at Brandywell.
After leaving Kildrum, it was Institute, in the Irish League First Division, who offered the path back into senior football. Goals didn’t flow with great regularity in 2012 at the Riverside Stadium, but there was something in his performances that Hutton had seen – and he made it his business to prise him to Ballybofey for this season.
Hutton clearly believes that a partnership with Kevin McHugh can bring the best out of him.
“It’s great to have him; he gives us another dimension,” the Harps manager says.
He’d asked McCarron at half-time to get in and turn the game, 24 hours after his international clearance finally came through from the FAI, It worked a treat
With Harps now back in 4-4-2 mode, McCarron and McHugh began to link well, but chances were at a premium with McCarron’s drive on 80 minutes – which was well parried out for a corner by Craig Hyland – the first time the Waterford ‘keeper acted in the second half.
McHugh had had an earlier effort, a powerful drive from 15 yards, charged down by John Frost as Harps probed with the front two combining to good effect.
Then, just as the board was going up to show the additional time, it seemed as if the chance had gone when there came Damian McNulty’s through ball, Brolly’s dummy and McCarron’s lethal finish.
Hutton stood at the edge of his technical area throughout – some 15 yards from his bench, behind the athletics track that surrounds the RSC – and was engulfed by subs and backroom team as McCarron wheeled away in dizzy delight on the far side.
The Harps boss was in animated mode a little later when, in the third minute of stoppage time, the referee, Sean Grant, brandished a straight red card to the Harps midfielder Thomas McBride.
His tackle was neither reckless nor over-the-top, but it resulted in him receiving a red, much to the annoyance of the travelling party (a ‘mind blowing’ decision, Hutton said). It didn’t spoil the party, though, for this was a night for them to enjoy a diligent second half that, finally, paid dividends right at the death.
Waterford has provided a mixture of emotions for Harps over the years.
Peter Hutton’s charges headed south-east on Thursday evening, leaving Ballybofey at 5pm, thereby ensuring there was no repeat of the harrowing evening, in August 2001, when Waterford thumped Harps 5-0 in a game delayed due to the late arrival of the team bus.
That was a night that caused a distressed Jonathan Speak to comment: “In my seven years at Finn Harps, that was the worst performance by any team. There was a lack of effort and there was no heart from too many of the players – it was that bad.”
There was also the seven goal thriller edged by Harps, which begun that 2001 season; a game in which the then player-manager Speak netted a last-minute winner.
It was in Waterford that the modern day Harps supporters had their champagne night when the Paul Hegarty-managed team of 2007 won promotion via a play-off win.
It is only now that Harps have begun to, realistically anyway, dream of a return to those days following a tough few seasons after a budget that neared €1million ended with relegation and a crippling balance sheet in 2008.
A return to those magical nights under a haze of expectancy at Finn Park might be some way off – but perhaps not as far distant as they had seemed in those days and seasons when merely keep a pulse beating down Navenny Street was success.