by Bartley Ramsay and Rodney Dullaghan
Finn Harps was formed in 1954 as a junior club. They first came to national prominence by winning the FAI Junior Cup in 1968. This then enabled them to play in the FAI Intermediate Cup in 1969. After they were knocked out of that competition, local men Fran Fields and Patsy McGowan took the decision to apply to the League of Ireland for membership. The club was admitted into the senior ranks in May of 1969 and Harps were due to play their first senior game on 17th August 1969.
Harps were beaten by ten goals to two in that match by the mighty Shamrock Rovers and there was much comment in the following week by the national press, that the club were not up to the task and it had been a foolish decision by the League to accept a team from Donegal. However, during the seventies Finn Harps went on to become one of the most consistent and top sides in the country.
Harps won their first senior trophy, the Dublin City Cup in 1971/2, when a Brendan Bradley goal defeated Cork Hibernians in Dalymount Park. Two years later Dalymount Park was again the scene of Harps' first and to date only FAI Cup Final victory. Two goals from the legendary Brendan Bradley and one by Charlie Ferry seeing off the challenge of St Patricks Athletic by three goals to one. Click Here for Cup Winning Team pic
Four times during the 1970s Harps played European football. Three times as runners up in the League Championship, playing in the UEFA Cup against Aberdeen, Derby County and Everton. Once in the European Cup Winners Cup when they appeared against Turkish Cup winners Bursaspor.
Harps also finished runners up in the League Cup finals of 1974 and 1975 to Waterford and Bohemians respectively. Throughout the seventies Harps never once finished in the bottom half of the table and were widely respected for their attractive and attacking football style.
Sadly the eighties saw a gradual decline of the club in terms of competing with the best in Ireland. An FAI Cup semi final in 1981, a Shield final defeat by EMFA (now Kilkenny City) and a League Cup Final defeat away to Waterford were the highlights of the decade and by 1985 the club had been relegated to the newly formed first division. A series of managerial changes were effected over the next few years in an attempt to raise the club but it wasn’t until the early 90s that Harps once again began to become a force to be reckoned with.
Patsy McGowan stepped in as manager for the third time at the start of the 1992/93 season. The next three seasons saw Harps finish in the play off position twice. Sadly, Harps were beaten both times, once by Cobh Ramblers and once by Athlone Town. Patsy was let go by the club half way through the 1995/96 season before the job could be completed, but Harps went on to win promotion with Dermot Keely at the helm. Thus ending eleven seasons in the dreaded First Division.
During that summer a consortium of business men attempted to take control at Finn Park, and when this offer was finally rejected it lead to resignations of the manager and certain members of the club committee. Charlie McGeever was appointed manager and despite time being against him, he managed to assemble a squad for the opening of the season and by the seasons end he ensured that Harps Premier Division status was retained.
Off the field the remaining committee members, set the club up as a Co-Operative Society, selling shares to the ordinary supporters, to ensure that the Club would be owned and run by the people who truly cared about it. A blueprint for the future was put in place that included a school of excellence for the young Donegal footballers and major plans for the renovation of Finn Park.
In their third season in the Premier Division Harps finished in fourth position, one point behind Shelbourne in third, just missing out on Europe. More notably however they made the FAI Cup final against Bray Wanderers. After a marathon series of matches Bray won leaving Finn Harps with nothing to show for one of their best seasons in over 20 years but the Irish News Cup.
After a very disappointing start to their fourth season having only one point from a possible twenty one Charlie Mc Geever resigned. Gavin Dykes was installed as manager. Once again Harps retained their Premiership status but the club was forced to go public with their financial difficulties which made it known that they were around £280,000 in debt.
Dykes resigned after an absymal run of games and fan's favourite Jonathan Speak took over as first team manager. New financial structures were put in place and and a newly appointed fundraising committee with numerous supporter clubs set up around the country. After a run of 14 games undefeated and an amazing fightback from Harps they were still relegated to Division One on the last day of the season after 5 years in the top flight.
'Speakie's' first full season in charge saw Harps finish runners-up in Division One to Drogheda United and they were then beaten on penalties by Longford Town in the playoffs. The following season was much the same with Waterford United running away with the league and third placed Harps were dumped out of the playoffs at the semi-final stage by Galway United.
Speak managed to hold most of the squad together despite interest from a number of Premier clubs including top scorer Kevin McHugh as they prepared for another assault on Division One where they were installed as the bookie's favourites to lift the title.
After a good start from Harps they fell into a mini-slump in August and mid-way through September having failed to win in a month, including a loss at home to Sligo Rovers, Harps fell to fourth in the league. When leaders Dublin City came to Finn Park five points ahead of Harps, Speak's troops could only manage a draw in what was billed as a must-win game. Despite having only lost two games all season, the nine draws was the Sion managers downfall and he was sacked two days later.
Speak's assistant, Sean 'Wizard' McGowan took temporary charge until a suitable placement was found and steadied the ship with two wins from two. Noel King was then appointed as the new manager going into the final third of the season and Harps were temporairaily rejuvinated, storming back to the top of the First Divsion table with a club record equalling six wins on the trot. With only four games remaining, Harps led the pack by a point but losses away to Bray Wanderers and Dublin City handed the title to Dublin and left Harps in the dreaded playoffs once again.
They confidently disposed of Bray Wanderers in the semi-finals on an aggregate score of 3-1 to set-up an unbelievably tense derby final against neighbours Derry City. The first leg with a capacity crowd in Finn Park finished scoreless and another sell-out crowd watched Derry nick it with a winner in extra-time to win 2-1. The fall-out from what was termed in the press as 'The Battle of The Brandywell' carries on into this new season with the Harps manager and two players suspended from their sending-offs to miss the start of the 2004 campaign. Both clubs board of directors have also been having a war-of-words in the media over the handling of the security during the second leg in Derry.
Harps face another year in the First Division and this year again only one
team is to be promoted automatically, that being the champions. Only time
will tell if Noel King can make history and deliver the first ever league
title to the banks of the Finn and bring The Harps back to the Premier Division
and to where they rightly belong!