Kilian Cantwell has made clean sheets the priority for Finn Harps as the League of Ireland resumes from its brief June recess.
Just twice in the first 17 games of the season did Harps manage to keep a shutout – in the 2-0 win over Derry in March and in the scoreless draw at Sligo a fortnight ago.
Cantwell, a closed-season signing from Galway United, slotted into the vacancy of the injured Keith Cowan, and believes that Harps must tighten up.
“We were thinking back to the other clean sheet and once you get one, you think you’ll get a few,” he says.
“We had to wait a long time. It was a huge positive to get that clean sheet in Sligo.
“I feel that there were a few weeks where we were missing bodies and we struggled to get momentum going.
“We got them back and the minute that happened, we pushed on. We had a good performance against Galway and it was hard to lose in the last few minutes, but we bounced back, got two wins and even the last day against Sligo it was good to get a point. We kept a clean sheet and it was good to get that because we didn’t have one in a while.
“We could be further up, but we could be easily further down. We just have to try our best to push on and keep doing that.”
Harps go into Friday night’s meeting with Shamrock Rovers in eighth spot. They’re out of the relegation zone but the congested battle for survival means that the state of play is liable to change at any time.
Cantwell had spells at UCD, Waterford United and Wexford Youths before rolling up at two seasons ago. After 28 appearances for the Tribesman in the 2016 campaign, he was snapped up by Ollie Horgan.
Harps have a new-found attacking dimension this year – and Cantwell believes that has shredded the clean sheets at times.
He says: “At the moment, we’re a very counter-attacking team. When you do that you do leave yourself open. We went for the Limerick game and we did just enough against Limerick. We’re trying to get the clean sheets back in again.
“For a smaller team like ourselves, you have to give it everything. We just need to stay up and you have to go all out. You don’t know, maybe goal difference could come into it.
“It will be a fight and we know that. Even if we get a run, we know we’ll be there or thereabouts. we can’t take our foot off the gas. If we do, we’ll struggle and we don’t want that.”
After beating Derry, Harps went into an unexpected slump and when Bray Wanderers won 3-0 in Ballybofey, Harps went bottom of the pile. It was a night when many believed scrawled the writing on the wall – but Horgan’s men have collected seven points from their last three games to climb out of the relegation zone again.
Cantwell says: “Coming into the break, we needed the rest. You could see that. We were getting tired and the same lads were playing every week. We definitely needed the break and it was nice to get those points before the rest. It’s not that it takes the pressure off us any, but it certainly adds to the momentum that we can take into the second half of the season.
“You’re going to have bad games. In the dressing room, we knew that wasn’t us. Naturally, you’re going to worry, but we just had to turn things around as quick as we could. You can let things go and just let it fall away.
“I don’t think anyone in the lower half is safe. If you start thinking that, you’re in trouble.”
Horgan has consistently preached a mantra of hard work to his team and it sits well with Kilkenny native Cantwell. He is one of the full-time players at the club, along with Danny Morrissey, Ciaran O’Connor, Ethan Boyle and Caolan McAleer.
When it was revealed that three teams were being cut from the top flight this season, many expected that Harps were odds-on to be relegated.
But Harps – whose marketing team came up with a novel ‘unify and defy’ message for the season – have been showing that they aren’t willing to just give in lightly.
Ironically, two of the teams who supported the change to a ten-team Premier – Sligo Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic – are in the drop spots at the moment.
Cantwell says: “With the three going down, there is more pressure and teams who wouldn’t usually be down there are feeling the pressure. A lower team might get a few wins and they’re half-way up the table.
“We have our own aims of staying up. That is all we’re trying to do. Others are thinking about the consequences of going down, but we know that we’ll be down there. There is pressure, but we’re playing with no fear.
“We’re going for games a lot more, but just staying above that bottom three is all that we want to achieve this year.”Tags: