And since Mervue United pulled out of Ballybofey on 7th May last with a shock 3-2 victory, no other side has managed to depart with the full haul of points. James Gallagher and his new look squad will be hoping to extend that run on Friday.
Gallagher is likely to give competitive debuts to Gareth Harkin and Conor O’Grady, while Paddy McLaughlin looks set to start again in his first game back at the club. Ciaran Coll, who missed all of last season with injury, should get the nod at left-back.
Kevin McHugh – scorer of fifteen goals in 2010 and is now just two goals away from overhauling Con McLaughlin as Harps’ second top goalscorer of all time – will again be the man that Harps turn to for goals this year. Much of Harps’ success this season could hinge upon the newly appointed club captain staying injury and suspension free.
Harps will be minus the services of Garbhan Friel (knee) and Gary Merritt who is away with the Irish Schools panel. Aaron O’Hagan is doubtful.
With the fixture list having been redrawn just over a week ago, Harps had been expecting a trip to the banks of the Lee in their opening fixture, but instead were handed a home fixture against the Pat Scully managed Limerick.
The Shannonsiders have had a great pre-season and Scully feels that they are capable to winning the First Division title this year. And, of course, in their ranks is former Harps player Chris Breen who could make his Limerick bow against his former team-mates.
“We’re expecting a really tough game,” said Harps boss ahead of the season opener. “It’s probably a tougher start than what was originally scheduled for us (Cork away). Limerick have been the form team in pre-season, scoring three and four goals in every game they’ve played.
“On top of that, Pat Scully said he wants to win the league this year so if they feel like they can make a statement like at the start of the year we have to believe they have a really strong side. They’ll be tough to beat but it’s a game we’re going into looking to win.”
The Harps Manager was full of praise for the work his squad has put in over the last six weeks since returning to pre-season training. “I need to give credit to the players for the condition they came back in, it made pre-season fairly easy. A lot of them have come back in much better physical shape to when they came back for pre-season last year. They have definitely improved in that regard.
“Speaking to the players, they have been saying it has been the toughest pre-season they have ever done, which is very encouraging from our point of view. It’s fantastic to see them really pushing themselves, trying to improve their overall fitness,” he said.
So what is Gallagher’s hopes for the season and does he see an improvement in last season’s eight place finish? “We’ll not really know until we get up and running. You could play twenty pre-season games but when the real stuff starts it’s a completely different story and we won’t know where we’re at until we start playing the first few games.
“I would expect Limerick, Shelbourne, Waterford and Cork to be the main ones leading from the front. We would be hoping to keep in touch with those four sides for as long as we can, as opposed to sides like Longford, Wexford, and Athlone – teams we were embroiled with last year.
“I think if we can keep pace with those four sides – clubs with a much bigger budget than ours – it would be a fantastic achievement for the club,” said Gallagher. “It’s a long, hard season and a lot of things can happen so we’ll just see where it takes us.”
Finn Park, Friday 4th March 2011 – Kick-off 8.00pm
MATCH SPONSOR: Highland Bakery
Doubtful: Aaron O’Hagan
Injured: Garbhan Friel (knee)
Unavailable: Gary Merritt
Form Guide (last six league games)
Finn Harps: D-D-L-W-D-W (9 pts)
Limerick: L-W-W-D-L-W (10 pts)
Finn Harps Pre-Season Results (Harps goalscorers in brackets)
29th January 2011 – Finn Harps 1-1 Sligo Rovers (o.g.)
6th February 2011 – Finn Harps 0-0 Derry City (Harps won 4-2 on pens)
18th February 2011 – Letterkenny Rovers 2–2 Finn Harps (McMenamin, Brolly)
19th February 2011 – Finn Harps 8-0 Swinford (McHugh 3, Bonner 2, Friel, Brolly, o.g)
23rd February 2011 – Finn Harps 2-3 Northern Ireland Amateurs (Mailey, McHugh)
28th February 2011 – Finn Harps 3-0 Cockhill Celtic (McLaughlin, McHugh, Whoriskey)