Harps draw with league champions

Finn Harps 1-1 Dundalk

Ollie Horgan saw his Finn Harps side secure their first point of the new League of Ireland Premier Division season following a deserved draw against the 2018 double champions Dundak in Ballybofey. Harps weren’t expected to get anything out of the game but the hosts produced a huge performance, taking the lead just before the break thanks to a Keith Cowan header. Brian Gartland grabbed the Dundalk equaliser in the 70th minute and while Harps did survive a couple of close calls it was a result that was warmly welcomed by the big home support at Finn Park.  

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There was a ‘feel good’ factor around Ballyfofey after the final whistle but Horgan and his assistant Paul Hegarty were already turning their attention to Monday’s night’s away game against St. Patrick’s Athletic in Dublin. Recovery from a huge effort physically and mentally against the league champions was uppermost in their minds. Still fans will be hoping that the draw will be the springboard for better things to come this season.

Photo credit: Clare McCahill.

New signing Raffaele Cretaro had a super game for the hosts and that was rightfully acknowledged by the home supporters when the 37-year-old was replaced by Niall McGinley with 16 minutes of normal time remaining.

Cowan was recalled to the starting 11 after missing the Bohs match and the Ramelton man had a fine game against last season’s top scorer Pat Hoban. Mark Coyle and new loan signing Sean Boyd also started with Caolan McAleer dropping to the bench while Niall Logue and Sam Verdon were not included in the match day squad.

The hosts went in front four minutes before half-time when Cowan headed past Gary Rodgers from a Cretaro corner. It was the first time for a Horgan managed side to score a goal against Dundalk. And it was also to be the first time that a team under his guidance got a league point against them.

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Cowan had also gone close with an early header after Harps had made a good start in front of the big home crowd. Dundalk without the injured Robbie Benson and Patrick McEleney, took a little time to settle and then became more menacing going forward with Michael Duffy forcing a good save from Peter Burke who started in goal despite the availability of Ciaran Gallagher. Burke was also equal to a Dean Jarvis effort while Hoban’s acrobatic overhead kick whizzed just wide on 21 minutes.

Just past the half-hour mark there was relief on the home bench when Dean Massey’s well struck free-kick rebounded off the crossbar and a couple of minutes later it took a slice of luck as a Harps body diverted a Jarvis header over the bar. Then against the run of play Harps took the lead on 41 minutes when Cretaro’s  corner was met by a powerful Cowan header that gave Gary Rodgers no chance in the Dundalk goal. Harps enjoyed a decent start to the second half with a Cretaro strike testing Rodgers after the ex-Sligo Rovers man was setup by Nathan Boyle.

Dundalk got back on level terms in the 70th minute when Duffy’s corner was headed past Burke by big central defender Brian Gartland. Harps came back and in a promising move sub Niall McGinley was released but Sean Hoare got back to make a timely tackle on the youngster. While Dundalk pushed for a winner, clearcut chances were scarce with Hoare coming closest from a header that came off a post after Gareth Harkin had blocked another attempt on the goal line.

Finn Harps - Peter Burke, John Kavanagh, Keith Cowan, Sam Todd, Daniel O’Reilly; Jacob Borg, Mark Coyle, Gareth Harkin, Raff Cretaro (Niall McGinley 74 mins), Nathan Boyle (Caolan McAleer 85 mins), Sean Boyd (Mikey Place 66 mins). Not used: Tony McNamee, Colm Deasy, Liam Walsh, Ciaran Gallagher (Gk). Dundalk - Gary Rodgers, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey, Chris Shields, Sean Murray (Cameron Dummigan 84 mns), Michael Duffy, John Mountney (Daniel Kelly 65 mins), Patrick Hoban, Dean Jarvis (Jordan Flores 76 mins).

Referee: Rob Rodgers.

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