BY CHRIS MCNULTY
PACKIE Mailey has returned to Finn Harps – with ‘the hunger back’.
The 25-year old Convoy man made the last of his 82 appearances for Harps at the end of the 2011 season, but was signed back by new manager Ollie Horgan yesterday (Thursday). He has signed a one-year contract at the Ballybofey side.
Mailey played the latter part of the 2013 Ulster Senior League season with Drumkeen United – and the centre-back could be the first of a number of USL players to make the move to Finn Park.
Mailey had a trial with Derry City in January 2012 and looked set to make a move to the Brandywell. However, talks broke down and with the then Director of Football at Finn Park, Felix Healy, having thrown a shot across his brow when saying ‘Nobody has left that we wanted to keep’ Mailey was disillusioned and took some time out of the game.
“I’ll never say a bad thing about Finn Harps,” he said yesterday.
“Things happened that maybe could have happened differently. I gave Derry a go and it didn’t work out. But it’s great to be back.
“When it didn’t work out at Derry, I said it was time to look after number one, go away and get a job. I was doing a course in Monaghan for the last number of months. There’s always a future outside of football and it knocked me back a wee bit.
“I was nearly two years without kicking a ball. It was strange.
“I’ve had a couple of years to recharge the batteries. I have the hunger back – and I’m glad to be back in Harps colours.”
He played 82 times for Harps in three seasons at the club, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and was appointed captain by James Gallagher for the 2010 season. He was Harps Player of the Year in 2009 and 2010.
Mailey said: “I was here for three years so I’m looking to bring experience and leadership back to the club again.
“I’m Harps through and through, have been all my life, so there was no hesitating on my behalf when Ollie called.
Mailey spent some time in Scotland with Hibernians, who he joined from Irish League side Insitute in 2005. He had a spell on loan with Stenhousemuir, but never made a first team appearance while at Easter Road.
Mailey had brief talks at the outset of the 2013 campaign with Peter Hutton, but he was involved at the time with the Donegal senior football team in the Dr McKenna Cup.
He said: “I was already involved with Donegal and I stuck with it. That didn’t work out at the time, but I felt I had to show a bit of loyalty after they gave the call. The chance to play for the county was always a dream for me so I gave it a go.”
Drumkeen United were making a push for the USL title alongside Cockhill Celtic and Mailey signed as Mickey Rodgers sought to bolster his squad.
Challenging in the USL gave Mailey the want to return to Finn Park. He said: “Mickey always said to get myself back playing at the highest level possible. When I signed for Drumkeen the hope was that it was a bridge to get back to senior football again.
“We had a great bunch of lads at Drumkeen and my time there gave me the hunger to get back at senior football again. It was always in the back of my mind to get back to Harps and the prospect of getting the call was in the back of my mind.”
Mailey is the first ‘new’ signing to be made by Horgan, who has eight of last year’s squad tied up on contracts.
This week, Sean McCarron, Damien McNulty, Thomas Bonnar and Mark Forker were re-signed.
For McNulty and McCarron it will be their second seasons at the club with the return of McCarron exciting Horgan, the manager stating that he would like to see him strike a keen partnership with Kevin McHugh.
Forker will be a member of the Harps squad for the fifth season in 2014 after becomming the 60th player to play 100 games for the club in the final game of last season in a scoreless draw at Salthill Devon, while Bonnar made his debut way back in 2005 and has played 98 times for the club.
Horgan has been on a vast trawl for players and has confirmed that he will begin negotiations with some players from the local Ulster Senior League in the coming days. Cockhill Celtic and Letterkenny Rovers are in FAI Intermediate Cup action on Sunday and Horgan will be in Buncrana for Cockhill’s game against Crumlin.
Horgan is known to be a fan of goalkeeper Gavin Cullen, but a victory for Cockhill could jeopardise a move for the former Harps ‘keeper. There is a strong possibility that Cullen will return to Harps, however. While Ciaran Gallagher has been linked with a move to Derry City, Horgan confirmed that he has held talks with the goalkeeper and said “I would like to see Ciaran stay at the club for the new season.”
One player who won’t be making a move is Liam Martin, the Donegal town man joined Ballinamallard United this week from Sligo Rovers. He had been courted by Harps, but with the lure of the Setanta Cup Martin has made the move to the Fermanagh club.
On possible approaches for USL players, Horgan said: “There are a couple I have identified. I am not saying that they can step up and play senior football, but they will certanly be offered the chance to show us what they can do.”
Meanwhile, Horgan hopes to be in a position to name his new backroom team in the next week.