Finn Harps slipped to a third League loss in a row on a sodden night in Ballybofey after making champions-in-waiting Cork City earn a hard-fought win in the night’s live TV game.
Finn Harps 0 Cork City 1
Twenty minutes from time, Cork pounced when Garry Buckley converted from close range after a Ryan Delaney header came back off the inside of the post.
Harps players were incensed, claiming that ‘keeper Ciaran Gallagher had control of the ball when Buckley stole in to score, but ref’ Paul Tuite was having none of it and the goal stood.
Buckley perhaps just got there a fraction before Gallagher to bag the game’s only goal.
Since Harps’ return to the Premier Division, they’ve made Ballybofey a difficult hunting ground for Cork – who had to work hard for two 1-0 wins here in the last two seasons – and it was more of the same here.
Indeed, the goal came at a time when Harps were enjoying a decent spell of their own.
The introduction of Ibrahim Keita just after the hour sparked Harps to life and he fed Mark Timlin, who curled just wide – and lifted the optimism around the old place in the process.
But just as Harps were wondering about an upset, Cork struck the dagger through their hearts.
Harps had only ever won twice in live tv games – the FAI Cup final in 1974 and the Cup semi-final back in 1999 – and there was a feeling that the presence of the RTÉ cameras could weigh heavily, on and off the pitch.
A low attendance, hardly helped by the earlier-than-usual kick-off, turned up, but it was actually Harps who had the game’s first opening as Sean Houston headed wide from Ethan Boyle’s right-wing centre.
Harps showed three changes from the team that capitulated to lose 4-0 at St Patrick’s Athletic on Friday night and fell into the drop zone.
The suspended Eddie Dsane sat out while Jonny Bonner and Keita lost out as Danny Morrissey, Paddy McCourt and Tommy McBride were included from the off.
Packie Mailey pulled out in the warm-up, otherwise the Convoy man would have taken the place of Damien McNulty.
Cork showed moments of the class that has taken them 17 points clear of defending champions Dundalk at the summit and to the brink of being crowned champions.
They could have been in front six minutes before the break, as Kieran Sadlier crossed for Jimmy Keohane, who flicked his header just wide of Gallagher’s far post.
Earlier, from a Steven Beattie cross, Gearoid Morrissey saw header rise fractionally too much.
Karl Sheppard tried to catch Ciaran Gallagher out with a cheeky backheel, from a Shane Griffin cross, on 24 minutes, but the Harps ‘keeper was alert to make the save.
Gallagher had to cut out a dangerous Sadlier cross just three minutes in and the Raphoe man turned over from Sadlier’s tidy attempt.
Sadlier was involved heavily and the ex-Sligo man failed to steer on target from the edge of the box as Cork began to take a hold of the contest.
Harps tried to make hay on the counter and Sean Houston forced his way through only to fire well over with an ambitious shot.
Sadlier wasn’t far off again early in the second half, but found Gallagher in top form as the Harps ‘keeper turned his curling effort round the post.
Gallagher saved from Sadlier in the closing moments while Buckley blazed over a yawning goal in added time.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Ethan Boyle, Damien McNulty, Kilian Cantwell, Ciaran Coll; Mark Timlin (Pascal Millien 79), Tommy McBride (Jonny Bonner 87), Paddy McCourt, Sean Houston, Gareth Harkin; Danny Morrissey (Ibrahim Keita 63).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Steven Beattie, Alan Bennett, Ryan Delaney, Shane Griffin; Conor McCormack, Gearoid Morrissey; Jimmy Keohane, Garry Buckley, Kieran Sadlier (Connor Ellis 88); Karl Sheppard
Referee: Paul Tuite (Dublin).Tags: