Finn Park was the venue as Finn Harps overcame a possible FAI Cup upset following their drawn fixture in Cork. Nigel Hegarty was at Finn Park to see Harps win comfortably and proceed to the semi-finals.
After a feisty and somewhat uninspiring encounter between Finn Harps and Avondale United ended in a 1-1 draw in Avondale Park on Sunday, the Munster Senior League side fancied their chances of causing an upset in Finn Park on Wednesday night. However, it wasn’t to be.
Harps trounced their non-league opponents in emphatic fashion, as veteran striker, and Harps captain, Kevin McHugh rolled back the years with a brace that helped send Ollie Horgan’s men through to their first FAI Cup semi-final in 15 years.
The game could have had a very different outcome however, as after just five minutes, former Cork City man Ray Lally forced a fingertip save from Harps’ goalkeeper Conor Winn, much to the relief of the 793 in attendance, willing Harps on all the way.
The vocal Harps support were given something huge to cheer about only minutes later as Gareth Harkin was met with the task of prodding the ball home from six yards after great work down the Harps wing by Brian McGroary to give the Donegal side the early lead they so badly craved. From then on, it was one way traffic.
One became two on the half hour mark as Damien McNulty smashed the ball below Irish Amateur international goalkeeper Danny O’Leary from a narrow angle, while the Ballybofey side were down to ten men temporarily, as McGroary went off the field with an injury.
Harps were dreaming of a cup semi-final at this stage, and could have, in truth, completely killed off the game before half time but for a determined performance from their intermediate visitors, who showed at times why they’re the top non-league side in the country, playing some neat football and testing the Harps midfield and defence, albeit being met by an apparent brick wall.
The game was eventually over as a contest fifteen minutes into the second half when Kevin McHugh bundled over his third goal of the season after a Harps corner wasn’t dealt with in the Avondale defence. Some may argue the ball was over the line before McHugh got to it, but none will deny the Killea man his name on the scoresheet such is his legendary status around the banks of the Finn.
A moment of madness in the Avondale box resulted in Harps getting their fourth of the night on 65 minutes as a poor backpass to ‘keeper O’Leary saw, man of the match, Gareth Harkin seize an opportunity to nip in and make a nuisance of himself, and he did just that, as O’Leary was adjudged to have fouled the Letterkenny man and referee Ray Matthews had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and awarding Harps a penalty as well as sending ‘Podge’ O’Leary off for an early shower.
The grateful McHugh stepped up and dispatched the spot-kick past the despairing substitute goalkeeper, manager Dave O’Keefe to a chorus of ‘there’s only one Kevin McHugh’ ringing around the ground.
By now, Harps were coasting along, with matters made easier against the ten men of Avondale, and may well have been playing a training match, but much to the credit of the Intermediate side, they battled on and never gave up. Such was their determination, they pulled back a consolation goal through Roy Long with ten minutes left on the clock. Following neat build up play down the left wing, Long smash a half volley into the net from ten yards.
For Avondale, it was a long 430km journey back to the rebel county, but such was their efforts this season, a quarter-final appearance leaves much to be proud of for O’Keefe’s men.
Harps however, have a first cup semi-final appearance since 1999 to look forward to, and with Derry City, St Patrick’s Athletic and Shamrock Rovers awaiting in next Mondays draw, it promises to be a tense few days around Finn Park.
Winn, McMonagle, Coll, Cowan, McNulty, P Mailey, J Mailey, Funston (O’Callaghan 65), McGroary (McCann 35), Harkin, McHugh (Tiofack 75).
O’Leary, Horgan, Mulconry, Spratt, Kelly, McCarthy, Murphy, Lally (Kiely 76), Warren (Connolly 62), R Long, D Long (O’Keefe 64)
Ford Man of the Match
Gareth Harkin (Finn Harps)
Referee: Ray Matthews
Nigel Hegarty, Pundit Arena.