Finn Harps fail to halt relentless Cork steamroller

 

Game Number eight for Dave Barry's side ended like the previous seven, with Finn Harps proving no more able than any other team this season to halt the Cork City steamroller. Whether the record breaking opening run can survive next week's trip to their closest rivals at Richmond Park remains to be seen, but right now the leaders don't look like a bunch of players who'll be kept awake at night by self doubt between now and then.

Harps had travelled south with a healthy belief in their own abilities. Prior to yesterday, they had suffered just one competitive defeat and there has been a growing feeling that the defensive frailties of last season have been sorted out, while the return to fitness of Jonathan Speak has made them far more of a threat up front.

Speak, though, failed to make any real impact on this contest and while strike partner James Mulligan did much better, the deeper role he occupied and the greater share of the defensive duties that fell to him in the wake of Eamon Kavanagh's first-half dismissal, helped to ensure that Harps' contribution to a spirited encounter went unrewarded by a goal.

They certainly had their chances, in both halves, with Donal O'Brien's drive against the post, and Speak's failure to connect when under pressure from Declan Daly, probably the best of them. "They were two great chances to get back into the match," said Charlie McGeever afterwards, "but when we didn't take them, the second goal was really the killer."

If his side could have had a couple, though, their hosts might easily have had a few more than the goals Kelvin Flanagan and John Caulfield scored for them. Flanagan's, after 18 minutes, left the Donegal side chasing the game, and while they coped fairly well with the sending off, Patsy Freyne and Flanagan again should have added to the margin.

Caulfield, thanks to a neat piece of work by Mark Herrick on the left, did double the lead with 22 minutes to play, but Gerald Dobbs should have had a penalty too, and it was something of a mystery why referee Dick O'Hanlon, well placed to see Gavin Dykes bundle the striker off the ball a yard inside the area, awarded a kick out instead. "Dobbsy got into the box and was blatantly taken out," remarked Dave Barry, "but maybe that was the referee not wanting to give something against a side with 10 men. Overall, though, they gave us a lot of problems but we expected that and so I've got to be happy that we've kept it going whatever way the game went."

The early exchanges were, in fact, a pretty good indication of what type of contest it was going to be, with both sides managing to string a few passes together in midfield but both being fairly well contained by their opponents' defensive line.

Harps did have one really good chance to snatch the lead, Donal O'Brien putting James Mulligan clean through on Noel Mooney after just seven minutes, but the Cork goalkeeper kept his head well, narrowed the angle and pushed the shot just around the post.

From play, City couldn't seem to create anything so clear cut but from set pieces . . . well, Harps have acquired a bit of a reputation there. Every one of the league goals they had conceded prior to yesterday came from one, and sure enough the hosts looked to be in with a much better chance when they started to win corners and free kicks around the Donegal team's area.

With their very first corner, in fact, the southerners should have taken the lead for, as badly mis-hit as it was, Jason Kabia's shot still nearly ended up in the net. When they got a second crack at it a minute or so later, though, they made the most of Harps' temporary discomfort, with Ollie Cahill this time feeding the ball short to Brian Barry Murphy, whose cross was headed high over Brian McKenna and Gavin Dykes and into the net.

It was a blow for Harps but not quite as literal as the one Eamonn Kavanagh delivered to Greg O'Halloran four minutes later. Kavanagh pleaded provocation but having used his elbow the excuses were in vain and his subsequent dismissal, with just short of 70 minutes remaining, left Cork with the sort of advantage they hardly seemed likely to surrender.

CORK CITY: Mooney; O'Halloran, Coughlan, Daly, Barry Murphy; Flanagan, Freyne, Herrick, Cahill; Dobbs, Kabia. Subs: Caulfield and Cronin for Kabia and Flanagan (65 mins).

FINN HARPS: McKenna; Vaudequin, Dykes, D Boyle, Minnock; Mohan, O'Brien, Flood, Kavanagh; Speak, Mulligan. Subs: Dowling for Speak (69 mins), McGettigan for Flood (72 mins), McGrenaghan for O'Brien (84 mins).

Referee: D O'Hanlon (Waterford).