FIRST Division leaders and favourites to secure a place in the Premier Division next season, Limerick, visit Finn Park tomorrow night with every intention of spoiling the Donegal side’s recent unbeaten run. (Kick-off: 7.45 p.m.)
And while the Ballybofey side is eagerly looking forward to the fixture, Harps’ boss Peter Hutton is struggling with a threatening injury crisis hovering over Finn Park.
That said, few could argue that Harps’ performances over the past six weeks have raised an eyebrow or two but last Saturday night’s victory over Longford Town at Flancare Park certainly came as a surprise.
In fact, it was Harps second victory at the Midlands venue this season with loyal hitman, Kevin McHugh, netting the vital goal on the night.
“It was a great three points for us,” declared Hutton. “We produced a real battling performance and it was probably a game that wasn’t for the purist.
“I’d have to admit that we didn’t really give a good account of ourselves in the first half, but we came more into it after the break and Kevin (McHugh) took his goal really well. We were delighted with the three points,” he added.
However, despite the positivity from the recent run of form, Hutton faces a number of selection issues this weekend. Thomas McBride serves the last match of his lenghy eight match ban.
Winger Gary Merritt, defender Thomas McMonagle and midfielder Tommy Bonner are all struggling with groin strains. McMonagle limped off injured in Longford and has not trained this week, which means he’s extremely doubtful, as is Milford native Merritt. Bonner, on the other had, faces a race against the clock.
Adam Clarke returned from Flancare on crutches having sprained an ankle and substitute goalkeeper, Rory Kelly, is currently carrying a shoulder injury. July singings Michael Funston and Mark Scoltock remain sidelined with ankle and back injuries respectively.
Then, of course, there’s the three long term cruciate victims - Stephen O’Donnell. Blain Curtis and Hugh Carlin - so Hutton does not have his sorrows to seek.
“We basically have a team of players unavailable for the weekend but, as I’ve said before, it’s an opportunity for others to come in an show us what they have. We’re looking forward to seeing them play against Limerick and that game will let us now where we are at having lost to them three times already this season.”
Pat Scully’s side is currently in prime position to win the Airtricity League First Division, sitting six points clear on 49 points of second-placed Waterford and Longford and another five wins from seven will guarantee them top spot. Athlone are fourth on 28 points, one point in front of Harps. In the three matches between the sides to date, Harps have been whitewashed. They went down by 2-1 on the opening night of the season at Jackman Park in March when Padraic Quinn and Rory Gaffney netted first half goals before Adam Clarke pulled one back for Harps.
In the April meeting at Finn Park, Clarke opened the scoring but it was Limerick who left with a 3-1 victory. Garbhan Coughlan, Castlefin native Shane Guthrie and Denis Behan were the goalscorers on a night when both teams finished with 10 men after McBride and Barry Ryan were dismissed during the closing stages.
Limerick were also comfortable winners in the most recent of the three clashes with Behan, Shane Treacy and Gaffney on the mark in late June, when McBride was red carded for a second time against Limerick..
“Limerick are more or less a Premier Division team in waiting,” Hutton claimed. “They can see the finishing line now and they will be taking it one game at the time as they try to win the league.
“We may be short a few, but we don’t fear Limerick. We have done reasonably well against them this season but we will need to be at our best to take anything from the game.”