FINN HARPS’ new managerment team of former Derry City managers and players, Peter Hutton and Felix Healy, are determined to lift the Ballybofey club out of the First Division basement to consolidate their senior status as soon as possible.
ALAN FOLEY reports
Announced as the successors to James Gallagher and Anthony Gorman last Tuesday night, the Derry-based pair met the Harps’ playing squad for the first time on Wednesday night and the hold the view that the necessary mix of experience and youth is in place for the club to move forward.
Hutton, Derry City’s longest serving player, is the new manager of the club having beaten off a number of potential suitors for the vacancy. Now aged 38, Hutton had been on Cliftonville’s books during last season’s Irish League programme.
He will be joined by Healy, who will act as the Finn Harps’ Director of Football, while current Harps’ A team boss, Paddy Foy, will fulfil the role of Hutton’s number two.
Having managed his home town club in a caretaking capacity on two occasions in the past, “Pizza” said he was looking forward to the challenge of moving Harps up the table after what has proved to be a particularly poor start to the season that has yielded just three points from eight games.
And his opening challenge will be against fellow strugglers, Wexford Youths tonight at Finn Park. (Kick-off: 8.00 p.m.)
Although he has never represented the club, Hutton has strong links to Finn Harps. His father, Peter Snr, played 228 games during the club’s first decade in senior football and, indeed, was a member of the 1974 FAI Cup winning team.
“It’s a challenge, but one we wouldn’t have taken on unless we thought we could do something about it,” said the new boss this week.
“I have known Felix since I made my debut for Derry City 20 years ago. We spoke about the vacancy at Finn Harps and felt, as a team, we could contribute.
“Of course, it’s a return to the old stomping ground for Felix as he has managed here in the past and the way I look at it, going into management and getting the opportunity to coach is a natural progression for me. People ask who is going to make the final decisions, but I can tell you Felix and I will be working together and will do the best for the club.”
Hutton also revealed that he will sign for Harps as a player once the Transfer Window opens in July. He is currently carrying an ankle medial ligament injury which was sustained when representing his former employers, Cliftonville last month against Dundalk in the Setanta Sports Cup.
“The break from playing actually worked out well in a way as I have been playing since the start of the Irish League season last summer,” he continued.
“This will give me time to take stock of what is going on at Finn Harps and familiarise myself with the players. From the outside looking in, the problem at the minute seems to be a lack confidence and we hope to improve that.”
Former Manager, Player
Felix Healy, of course, has represented Harps both as a player and manager in the past. He played the first seven games for Harps during the 1978/79 season, including both legs of the UEFA Cup first round fixture against Everton, before leaving Finn Park to sign for Port Vale.
Healy returned in 2004 after Noel King’s resignation as manager and led Harps to the First Division Championship in his first season in charge.
However, following an indifferent start to life in the Premier Division, he was promptly sacked from the position in July, 2005.
“I considered the offer of returning to Finn Park as the chairman called me and asked me if I was interested,” confirmed Healy.
“After a number of conversations with him I decided to come back and give it my best shot. Peter is a person I have known for years and we talked over the matter. When I was managing Derry City the first thing I did was make him captain and have always enjoyed working with him.
“I am aware of the plight Finn Harps are in, but I am also aware of the squad that is there. People say it’s similar to when I took over in 2004, but it’s not. The previous group was an experienced squad with Declan Boyle, Shane Bradley, Paddy McGrenaghan, Tom Mohan and Kevin McHugh involved, while this is a younger group of players.
“We cannot wait to get into the football routine again and, hopefully, we can build a feel-good factor here,” added Healy.
Harps’ chairman, Mr. Joey O’Leary, interviewed eight interested candidates for the position of manager last week. Although unwilling to share the identity of those parties, former Harps and Shelbourne manager Dermot Keely was said to be one, as was current Ulster Senior League champions’ manager Donal O’Brien.
Joe Boyle, who is a well-qualified FAI Development Officer for schools and colleges, was also said to have interviewed well
But the chairman claimed that there was “a high profile candidate from Scotland,” which the rumour mill claimed might have been either former Sligo Rovers manager Willie McStay or even as some suggested, former Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Packie Bonner, who is a native of Burtonport in West Donegal.