As a Finn Harps underage team gears up for another National final, Kevin McHugh believes now is the time for the club to catch up and progress at all levels.
The Finn Harps Academy Director was delighted to see the Under-14 side overcome St. Patrick’s Athletic in the semi-final via a penalty shootout, and they travel to Dublin to take on Shamrock Rovers in the U14 National League final tomorrow at 3pm at the Roadstone Complex.
And while he’s happy with the current set-up in the academy in regards to coaches and facilities, the legendary Finn Harps goalscorer is adamant that Donegal has something special that hasn’t been utilised enough by the club.
McHugh told Donegal Daily: “I was absolutely delighted to read our chairman’s vision for the club, I think it’s ambitious but completely realistic.
“I’ve been beating this drum for years I think there’s something special here in Donegal and we can compete on the national stage in various sports, especially football. If we got the proper structure and belief from the top to the bottom I think we can build something here that’s second to none and I think we have an opportunity as a club over the next 3-5 years to build that.
“I’m just delighted someone was brave enough to put the brakes on and say ‘we need to change this up’ because when I made my debut in 1998 it’s been the same setup, same thing since.”
“Yes we’ve had some brilliant nights and some huge success but we’ve nothing to show for it. You sit down and look around, what have we to show for it? We have nothing.
“Someone needed to put the brakes on, take a look around and say yeah we might have to take a hit for one or two years but we need to build a club and the structures right so the next time we do return, that we’re not scraping and trying to stay up.Yes it’d be a fantastic to get up and stay up but at least you’ve something to build on and you’re not running around chasing facilities.
“It’s a brave thing for Ian to do but I hope the people of Donegal and Finn Harps back him now because I do think it’s the right direction and the way forward.
“Every year we bring in a huge amount of players from various countries and down the country, which is fine, but those people have no connection to the club and they have no problem leaving at the end of each season.
“I think it’s a balancing act, are we going to go all underage next season? Absolutely not. Are we going to do the same we’ve been doing the last 30-40 years? Hopefully not.
“It’s really important the club set these structures now and have an identity and get that culture within the club over the next 3-5 years and see where it takes us. At least after that time we should have something to show for it.”
Last year, the Finn Harps Under-14s and Under-15s won the National Cup final’s on the same weekend in November, and there has been plenty of success for the Harps at underage level over the years in various age groups, and McHugh thinks the Academy should play a massive role in the club going forward.
“I think people are starting to see what we’re trying to do. We’re slightly behind other clubs in terms of these youth teams. But these teams aren’t just a box ticking exercise, they can be used to improve the senior team, especially a club like Finn Harps that don’t have the resources to buy in players and pay huge money.
“I think the smart play is to use the underage teams and use that time to restructure everything and put it into something that can be there for many years to come. But we’re trying to improve every year, it’s as simple as that and they’re keen and ambitious to push these boys on and hopefully over the next 3-5 years it will improve a success.
“The current set up of coaches is great and I’m delighted to have that but if we can build towards having facilities it’ll be the icing on the cake and it would make my job a hell of a lot easier. Fifty percent of my job sometimes is running around trying to get facilities for teams and training and it is tough. We do have brilliant people involved in the club and we do have brilliant staff but we’re just just looking to bring the standards up and have something to show for.”
While success tomorrow would be an incredible achievement, for this Finn Harps side, McHugh says it won’t change his outlook on whether the team has had a good year or not.
“Last year we had a freak year with two teams winning national titles, but it’s not something I’d be typing into the end of year review, success is not how we measure it, but it is great.
“We set standards within the academy and it helps us gauge but it’s not ultimately how we gauge it, we sit down and look at individual player development and wether the players have progressed from January to November, and then player progression from academy to National League, then ultimately to the first team.
“Coaches, office staff, physios, strength and conditioning and the groundsmen all play a huge part in another good season from the academy.”