New signings soften O’Grady injury blow

Finn Harps received a major this week following confirmation of the seriousness of Conor O’Grady’s injury but the news of new signings Stephen O’Donnell and Sean McCarron will go some way to softening the blow.

ALAN FOLEY reports

The Donegal club’s Director of Football, Felix Healy and manager, Peter Hutton, have a sizable task on their hands in Ballybofey as Harps sit three places off the bottom of the Airtricity League First Division.

O’Grady was one of the few players with experience the pair inherited but the former Sligo Rovers captain, who has not played in five weeks, is expected to be out for quite some time with an ankle injury that will now require surgery.

“Conor had a scan on his ankle and the results were not good,” confirmed Healy.

“There are complications in his ankle. Being totally optimistic, we might see him back on the pitch in three months but the state of play now is he will see a specialist next Tuesday in Dublin and will, therefore, have an operation over the next fortnight or so. It’s a blow to us and a blow to Conor.”

On the plus side, two players have agreed to become part of the Harps revolution and Healy was an interested spectator at Station Road in St Johnston last Friday night last when Kildrum Tigers and Letterkenny Rovers shared out a 1-1 result in the Ulster Senior League.

Twenty-eight-year-old Stephen O’Donnell and Sean McCarron, both of Kildru Tigers, will sign for Harps and should be available for selection come July. They will be joined by 37-year-old Hutton, who will then become player-manager, and John Paul Gallagher, the Strabane native and former Dungannon Swifts and Linfield full-back, who signed last month.

O’Donnell has an eye for goal and managed to find the net on no fewer than 10 occasions in the 2004 campaign from midfield for Sligo Rovers, whom he had joined from Letterkenny Rovers.

In 2005, he was in and out of the first team at the Showgrounds having missed the start of the season because of his tour of duty with the Irish Army in Bosnia. That said, he still played a significant part in the ‘Bit o’ Red’s First Division Championship win.

However, as well as an occasionally stormy relationship with then Rovers manager Sean Connor, the Manorcunningham native who now lives in Convoy was committed to stints overseas and because of that didn’t fit into Sligo’s ambitious plans to adopt a semi-full-time strategy in 2006.

O’Donnell joined Harps that January, having been signed by former manager, Anthony Gorman, and scored on his debut for the club away to Kildare County and then again on his home debut against Kilkenny City. In all, he made 26 appearances for Harps scoring seven goals. After leaving the club, he spent most of his time playing for Kildrum in the Ulster Senior League, Lagan Harps in the Donegal League and for the Defence Forces.

Twenty-year-old McCarron started the season as a member of Derry City’s first team squad before departing and signing across the border for Kildrum. After leaving the Brandywell, local Irish league club Institute had expressed an interest.

McCarron, who lives in the shadow of Brandywell Stadium, originally impressed in both the U-20’s and Reserve teams before he secured professional terms at Derry but left after an difference of opinion with manager, Stephen Kenny.

Meanwhile, talk of another striker signing for Harps this week ended when Stephen Parkhouse, who had played under Paul Hegarty at Finn Park in 2007 and 2008, put pen to paper for Coleraine.

“I tried to sign Stephen for Harps the last time I was here as he can play in a number of positions,” Healy said of O’Donnell. “He’s experienced and no disrespect to the Ulster Senior League, but he’s too good for it.

“As for Sean, he started the season at Derry City and left after a bit of a fall-out but he’s more than capable. We’re looking forward to seeing these fellas involved with the likes of Peter Hutton and John Paul Gallagher and there could be three or four more on their way in.”

O’Grady’s last appearance for Harps coincided with that of former manager, James Gallagher, when Longford Town came to Finn Park in a league fixture in April and left with all three points.

Tomorrow night at Flancare Park, the teams meet again in the FAI Cup third round. (Kick-off 8pm).

Marc Brolly scored in that last meeting but he picked up a knock in the 1-0 defeat against Monaghan United on Monday night and was due to be assessed last night at training. James Doherty has a groin strain and Gary Whoriskey has an ankle injury.

“We played better than some of the reports suggested in the Monaghan game and Roddy Collins admitted to me afterwards they were lucky,” continued Healy.

“I thought it was the best we played since we came in but we needed to do more in the final third.”