BJ Banda’s header late in extra-time sends Finn Harps to Premier League

Limerick relegated after brave season-long effort for survival

Finn Harps’  BJ Banda is swamped by fans at the final whistle after his goal secured Premier Division football for the Donegal  club in their play-off against Limerick at Finn Park in Ballybofey. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho/Presseye

Finn Harps’ BJ Banda is swamped by fans at the final whistle after his goal secured Premier Division football for the Donegal club in their play-off against Limerick at Finn Park in Ballybofey. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho/Presseye

 

Finn Harps 2 Limerick 0 (Harps win 2-1 on aggregate)

Finn Harps will be playing in the Premier Division of the SSE Airtricty League next season after an absorbing promotion/relegation play-off at Finn Park in Ballybofey on Friday night.

The hero for Harps was teenage substitute BJ Banda who headed home a Damien McNulty cross four minutes from the end of extra-time.

Limerick began the game as favourites, holding a 1-0 first-leg lead, ironically scored by Donegal man Shaun Kelly, and on a high having escaped automatic relegation on the last day of the league campaign.

For most of the season, Limerick appeared destined for the drop. Having notched up just six points from their first 21 league games – and without a victory – their turnaround has been the most startling in the history of the Premier Division.

Limerick were the better side in the early exchanges but Harps created the first chance when defender Keith Cowan was thwarted as Freddy Hall dived at his feet inside the six-yard box.

Hall was then forced into action again to deal with a Damien McNulty header on 17 minutes while moments later Michael Funston flung himself forward to head narrowly wide.

Raymond Foy then forced Hall into having to go full stretch to make another save as the First Division side enjoyed a really decent spell.

But Limerick always looked menacing in attack and Harps survived a couple of goalmouth scrambles before Harps then took the lead on 37 minutes.

Limerick failed to clear and in nipped Funston and although he was forced wide following a defensive mix-up between Patrick Kanyuka and goalkeeper Hall, his shot from a narrow angle was adjudged to have crossed the line, and the goal was given.

Moments later McNulty was taken down by Dean Clarke right on the edge of the box, with Harps adamant that it should have been a penalty.

Finn Harps veteran Kevin McHugh curled a free narrowly over at the start of the second half and the inventive Foy then outfoxed Kelly before unleashing a thundering shot that flashed across the face of goal and wide on the hour.

Ian Turner blasted high over the target on 71 minutes for Martin Russell’s side and Shane Duggan then had a shot saved before Shane Russell fired over from a great position with five minutes left.

McNulty then headed wide at the other end in a nail-biting finish.

Extra-time saw both teams tiring but Matthew Crossan went close with a 20-yard effort narrowly in the second period.

Banda then headed in the winner to become a Harps hero.

FINN HARPS: Gallagher; McNulty, Cowan, P Mailey, Coll; Funston, Foy, Harkin, J Mailey; McNamee, McHugh. Subs: Crossan for Funston (96 mins), McDaid for Harkin (100 mins), Banda for McHugh (102 mins).

LIMERICK FC: Hall; Kelly, Kanyuka, Williams, Treacy; Turner, O’Connor, Duggan, Clarke; Lynch; Faherty. Subs: Russell for Kanyuka (57 mins), Mann for Clarke (110 mins).

Referee: Derek Tomney (Dublin).

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