BY CHRIS MCNULTY
OLLIE Horgan wants his Finn Harps side to tighten up in their defending of set-pieces ahead of a trip to Waterford United on Friday night that sees the Ballybofey residents begin the second quarter of the season.
Although beaten by a debatable penalty in Longford last Saturday night, Horgan still jots the concession down in the ‘set piece’ column.
The new manager is also hankering for a return to action for Kevin McHugh and Sean McCarron, who have not been able to showcase the talents that yielded a 21-goal return between them in 2013.
Although unfortunate to see David O’Sullivan’s first-half penalty give Longford Town the win last weekend, Harps had a notable lack of chances from open play. Bar a late chance for Ruairi Keating that was headed off-target, Horgan’s side were living off scraps.
At both ends of his side, the new manager has set his sights on improving.
“Defensively we have been fairly decent, but a lot of the goals we have conceded have been from set pieces,”
Horgan said. “That is disappointing because we’ve been putting a lot of work into that side of it.”
This week sees Horgan take on a Waterford side that has kept a clean sheet in each of their last three outings.
“Take the games against Cobh Ramblers and Shamrock Rovers B (won 5-0 and 3-0 by Harps) out of it and we have only scored two more goals (the 1-1 draws against Wexford Youths and Galway FC).
“I’d hoped we’d be able to create more. We had only half chances in Longford, although in fairness the chances we conceded there were much the same. We were disappointed with the move before the penalty in Lonford. I felt that Ciaran (Coll) could have done better when he allowed O’Connor backheel it to Haverty for the cross, but then again there were a couple of our lads who could have tracked back better too.
“It doesn’t get any easier for us. Waterford have kept clean sheets now for three games in a row and I feel that they have more attacking flair than Longford.
“There hasn’t been much between us and any team so far, bar maybe the quality in finishing. Whether Sean and Kevin can help that, I’m not sure – but I hope they can.”
McHugh had a scan and an injection on a troublesome hamstring injury in Dublin last Friday. He has not played since the opening night of the season, when Harps drew nil-nil at home to Waterford.
“McCarron, for his part, played the final sixteen minutes of the recent draw at home to Wexford and had to wear a facemask as protection for a broken cheekbone. McCarron was due to train on Wednesday night having not been in the squad for the trip to Longford.
McHugh was to resume light training last night, Thursday, but will not be involved in Waterford, while McCarron’s position is unclear, although Horgan hopes to include the Derryman in his squad.
While Josh Mailey is back in contention having served a ban, Horgan will be without Keith Cowan and Thomas Bonnar, both of whom are suspend. Bonnar has accumulated four bookings, while Cowan has been handed a further three-match ban for his sending off against Wexford, giving him a total four-match suspension.
“There seems to be almost zero-tolerance,” Horgan observed.
“It hasn’t been the case that we have kicked teams off the pitch either. I just wonder what we’d get if we did something very serious.
“I am disappointed in the punishment Keith has been given. I feel that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Danny Furlong didn’t help the thing, but I spoke to Shane Keegan, the Wexford manager, and he was as surprised as I was with the suspension that Keith has been given.
“It was a foolish thing to have done and for an experienced man it wasn’t an experienced thing to do. But I still feel that it didn’t warrant a four-match suspension.”
Horgan has been able to avail of replays for all of his games so far, which have helped his preparation immensely. The Harps boss was able not only to view re-runs of key plays in the games, but has been able to get a second, third and subsequent looks at the recent sendings off of Mailey and Cowan.
In their appeal against Mailey’s dismissal against Shelbourne, Harps submitted video evidence.
Ciarán McBride and Jason Hegarty have been filming the footage and Horgan hopes to retain their services throughout the season.
Harps will travel down and up on the one day for the Waterford game, with Caoimhin Bonner again expected to line out in the heart of the defence having been given a full debut in Longford.
Horgan said: “That was his first start in a long while. He was steady if not spectacular I felt. He has a bit to go yet, but I can’t complain – his attitude is very good and he loves the battle.”
On Waterford, Horgan expects a tough contest. He said: “Waterford will be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. They have quality. The have changed a lot of personnel week-in, week-out. They are just probably unsure of their starting line-up. They aren’t panicking because they have real attacking quality and we’ll be up against it.”