McCourt gives Finn Harps the advantage heading to Limerick
Former Celtic player scores in his final game at Finn Park in first leg of playoff
Paddy McCourt celebrates scoring with Finn Harps team-mates after scoring a penalty in the SSE Airtricity League First Division Promotion/Relegation playoff first leg at Finn Park. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho
Finn Harps 1 Limerick 0
Former Northern Ireland and Celtic star Paddy McCourt made his Finn Park farewell in the best way possible – by scoring the all-important goal in the first leg of the promotion/relegation playoff against Limerick.
The 34-year-old, who is retiring at the end of the season, fired home a 36th-minute penalty to give the First Division side a precious advantage going into the second leg against Limerick at the Market’s Field on Friday.
The Derry Pele, who had battled against injuries all season, was given a standing ovation when he finally went off in the 77th minute.
Despite the defeat, Limerick will take much heart from a spirited display which was in stark contrast to many recent league outings.
Ollie Horgan’s side was dealt a major pre-match blow when it emerged that regular goalkeeper Ciarán Gallagher – who had conceded only two goals in his last nine league games – was ruled out with a knee ligament injury.
Peter Burke, a former Republic of Ireland under-17 and under-19 player, whose only league appearance all season was against Cabinteely on the final day, was drafted in to fill the netminder’s role.
In an open start for a game of such importance, Harps had a real let-off when a defensive mix-up saw Conor Ellis skip past Burke but with the goal unguarded he was unable to score and could only look on in disbelief as his shot from a narrow angle came off the post.
Harps took the lead on 36 minutes after the lively Jesse Devers was taken down in the box by Killian Brouder. McCourt stepped up to dispatch the spot kick past Tommy Holland to the delight of the majority in the biggest crowd of the season.
The third quarter turned out to be a tighter affair. Holland was forced into action to save with his feet to thwart Nathan Boyle, while at the other end Billy Dennehy hooked a shot just to the left of the post.
Limerick were then dealt a blow when Holland had to be stretchered off having sustained an injury in dealing with a Devers header and was replaced by substitute goalkeeper Jack Brady on 70 minutes.
With both the temperature and entertainment value dipping, Barry Maguire had an 88th-minute chance for the Shannonsiders but his shot was tipped over by Burke. Seven minutes of stoppage time was played but Harps held on for victory.
FINN HARPS: Burke; Kavanagh, Borg, Cowan, Todd, Coll; Devers (Logue, 88 mins), McCourt (Sobowale, 77 mins), Harkin; Place, Boyle (O’Flynn, 90+7 mins).
LIMERICK: Holland (Brady, 70 mins); Kelly, Cantwell, Brouder, Tracy; Dennehy, Coleman, Duggan, O’Sullivan (W Fitzgerald, 52 mins); Maguire, Ellis (Morrissey, 78 mins).
Referee: R Harvey (Dublin).