Brian Gartland struck for champions Dundalk to deny Finn Harps a famous win in Ballybofey tonight.
Finn Harps 1 Dundalk 1
By Chris McNulty at Finn Park. Pictures by Joe Boland, North West News Pix
Keith Cowan’s goal in the 41st minute had Harps dreaming – but this point represents a bonus point of sorts for Ollie Horgan’s side.
Twenty minutes from time, Dundalk captain Gartland powered in a header from Michael Duffy’s perfectly-placed corner to draw his side level – and prevent Harps from an unlikely win on a night when Premier Division football made its return to the Twin Towns.
It came just when the home followers’ looks at their timepieces were becoming more frequent as they sensed a mammoth upset on a night when their side had been as far-out as 12/1 on some chalkboards beforehand.
The Harps goal came completely against the run of play, Cowan rising high to head home from a teasing Raffaele Cretaro corner, arrowed in from the left flank.
Cowan missed last Friday’s 1-0 loss to Bohemians at Dalymount Park having been on a ski trip with Coláiste Ailigh, where he works as a PE teacher.
Harps had been on thin ice before that moment when Cowan climbed to power past Gary Rogers, the Dundalk goalkeepers – Harps’ first goal in eight games against Dundalk.
Four minutes the other side of the interval, Rogers failed to hold a Cretaro shot after he took receipt of Nathan Boyle’s inviting ball into the area and, with Boyle lurking, Gartland had to take evasive action.
After Gartland levelled things, Dundalk went in search of another – and almost got it 13 minutes from time, when Sean Hoare knocked against the post after Gareth Harkin stopped on the line from Gartland.
At the other end, Hoare intervened to halt the march of Harps sub Niall McGinley, who was scampering into the danger-zone, while Harps ‘keeper Peter Burke clawed away from Duffy’s tester.
Harps included striker Sean Boyd – who has signed a six-month loan deal from Shamrock Rovers – for his Harps debut in a starting XI that showed three changes, with Cowan and Mark Coyle included from the off.
Caolan McAleer dropped to the bench while there was no place in the squad for Niall Logue or Sam Verdon, who had both started last week.
Harps had to soak up plenty of early pressure from the champions, who wasted no time in threatening a breakthrough.
Burke – who kept his place in spite of Ciaran Gallagher’s return to the fold – saved well from Michael Duffy’s testing first-timer from 20 yards. Duffy riffled goal-ward after collecting a throw-in off Gartland, but Burke was equal to it.
Burke denied Sean Murray and Dean Jarvis powered into Burke’s midriff as Dundalk turned the screw.
The Lilywhites were close to the opener when Pat Hoban’s acrobatic volley flew over after Murray’s header fell into his airspace.
They went even closer when, just after the half-hour, Dane Massey, from 25 yards, clipped the Town End’s crossbar with a delicate free-kick.
Dundalk were minus Patrick McEleney and Robbie Benson, both injured in last week’s 1-1 draw with Sligo Rovers, with Dean Jarvis and Murray coming in, and the visitors were stunned when Cowan broke the deadlock.
Hoare, after meeting Duffy’s corner, headed wide just before the break, when Harps fans were pinching themselves.
They were brought back to ground level when Gartland headed home, though industrious Harps will take much from this one.
Finn Harps: Peter Burke; John Kavanagh, Jacob Borg, Keith Cowan, Sam Todd, Daniel O’Reilly; Nathan Boyle (Caolan McAleer 86), Gareth Harkin, Mark Coyle, Raffaele Cretaro (Niall McGinley 75); Sean Boyd (Mikey Place 68).
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; John Mountney (Daniel Kelly 65), Dean Jarvis (Jordan Flores 77), Chris Shields, Michel Duffy; Sean Murray (Cameron Dummigan 85), Pat Hoban.
Referee: Robert Rogers.Tags: