BY CHRIS MCNULTY
SEAN McCarron and Kevin McHugh hit 21 goals between them in 2013, but McCarron believes there is much more to come from the Finn Harps strikers next season.
Both have been re-signed by the new Harps manager, Ollie Horgan, ahead of the 2014 season, in which McCarron hopes to strike it rich alongside veteran hitman McHugh.
The duo started 2013 on fire, but as Harps’ season took a dip so too did the form of the front pairing.
McCarron’s season began with a dramatic late equaliser to snatch an opening day draw at Waterford United and they hit a brace each in a 4-1 home win against Cobh Ramblers.
He played 21 times and hit ten goals since that night of his debut in the RSC.
However, the Derryman freely admits that he hadn’t given 100 per cent over the course of the season.
“There’s definitely more to come,” he says.
“Last season was ok, but I have a lot more to give. Hopefully I can contribute a lot more in 2014.
“Overall I enjoyed last season. I enjoyed playing up top with Kevin. We can score a lot of goals together.”
McCarron’s paths with Ollie Horgan had only crossed fleetingly. When McCarron was playing in the Ulster Senior League for Kildrum Tigers, Horgan was the manager of their rivals Fanad United. Horgan had watched Harps closely in recent times and saw enough of McCarron to convince him that he had something to offer.
Horgan is both a strict disciplinarian and a manager who demands nothing less than total commitment from his players.
McCarron seems aware of what will be required when pre-season gets underway in a couple of weeks’ time.
“When a new manager comes in you’re always wondering if he’ll want you,” McCarron says of those weeks between the departure of Peter Hutton and the appointment of Horgan.
“The thing is to stay positive and hope that you’ve done enough to make him want you. He told me when I spoke to him that he’d watched a lot of me. It calmed me down a bit when I got speaking to him.
“I’m glad to be signed back. Ollie is a real football man. He seems to be great for motivating players and, already, from talking to him I know that I have made the right decision.
“I didn’t know too much about Ollie, but I’d heard about him around the football world. His work ethic is second to none, he’s a real 100 per cent man.”
Finn Harps have always had top-class strikers over the years and the side has included some of the best goalscorers the League of Ireland has seen: They include the great Brendan Bradley, Con McLaughlin, Jonathan Speak and McHugh’s name now slots beneath Bradley in Harps’ all-time charts.
As partnerships go, there have not been too many really prolific duos: When Conor Gethins and Stephen Parkhouse hit a combined 37 in 2007, it was the most from any front pair since Joe Nicholl and Terry Harkin netted 39 in the 1972/73 season.
McHugh scored 35 alongside Speak in 2001/02, 27 with Damien Whitehead in 2002/03, another 27 with Whitehead in 2003 and 36 with Chris Breen in 2004.
McCarron is looking forward to a pre-season that he feels can ignite the flames for a profitable season alongside McHugh.
“I can’t not learn from a player like Kevin,” he says.
“It’s great to play alongside a player like him. He’s always giving out wee bits of advice and trying to keep me right.
“I can’t wait to get back at it. I feel raring to go.
“We should have scored a lot more. Myself and Kevin have a good understanding going on between us. Hopefully we can improve on it and get more goals next season.”
When McCarron netted in a 1-0 win against Mervue in mid-May, Harps were second in the First Division’s standings, but the wheels came off the carraige, taking just eight points out of a possible 42 by the next time Mervue rolled down Navenny Street. Between May and August, McCarron and McHugh hit one League goal each and there had been the saga of the ‘Arranmore four’, as dubbed to the foursome of Shaun McGowan, James Doherty, Mark Forker and Paul McVeigh who defied club orders and played in a seven-a-side on the island, resulting in a two-week suspension for each.
When results finally came good again, it had been a case of too little, too late.
“Frustration sums up the season,” McCarron says.
“We started so well, but things started to drop off. We need to make a lot of things right for the new season.
“We need to maintain that consistency. We can push for promotion, but we need to make sure that we don’t have the drop off that we did last season.
“We might have looked too far ahead. Maybe if we just break it down, take it one game at a time, we can have more focus on one game at a time instead of always looking at that big picture.”
All the time League performances were wretched, Harps’ machine was chugging along through the rounds of the FAI Cup and when McHugh cracked in a stunning goal in a Finn Park quarter-final against Drogheda United, the Blue and White army dared to dream of a first FAI Cup semi-final appearance since the dizzying days of 1999.
McHugh rolled back the years with a sumptuous effort that superbly beat Michael Slingermann, the Drogheda goalkeeper. Finn Park was drunk on euphoria again, only for Mick Daly to provide a sobering late equaliser that broke Harps hearts. Before a highly-charged atmosphere that night, Harps lost Ciaran Coll, their left-back, to a very harsh red card, on a night when they departed with quite a few ‘what ifs’.
Hutton was banished to the stand, Drogheda won the replay 2-0, but there had been fleeting glimpses of what might have been with a big night having been tasted once more by the Finn.
When Derry City came to Finn Park for the League Cup in May an understrength Harps took them to penalties and lost on a night when they should have won in normal time.
McCarron feels it was much like his own season, but he hopes, like on a personal level, the big occasions they can become a more regular feature in 2014.
“When there’s a big crowd it spurs you on – and we had a couple of wee glimpses of it,” he says.
“We need to be challenging to get that every week. Fans will come out if we’re doing well. It’s a hard League to get out of, but if we can sort ourselves out there’s no reason we can’t push on.”