Former Limerick player Karl O’Sullivan bagged what turned out to the be the winner on his debut for Finn Harps as they opened their account with a north-west derby win over Sligo Rovers at Finn Park yesterday evening.
In a game of few chances, this was a great start to the season for the Donegal club, who have once again been installed as favourites for the drop.
Harps conjured up a couple of openings early on, with Karl O’Sullivan shooting wide and Kosovar Sadiki just failing to connect properly with a free from evergreen 38-year-old Raff Cretaro — out of retirement for the second time to assist the Donegal club.
But it was the visitors who had the best opportunity in the opening quarter when towering new Finnish defender Teemu Penninkangas rose above the Harps defence only to head narrowly wide.
Mark Anthony McGinley was then forced into action to save from Garry Buckley following a quick free from Ronan Coughlan.
Sligo squandered a number of opportunities with poorly taken set-pieces in what was an even first half, that only came to life in fits and starts.
Harps had a minor scare just before the interval when an attempted clearance from Ryan Connolly spun off into McGinley’s grasp.
Harps broke the deadlock in the 56th minute, with three debutants involved. A Ryan Connolly free found Dave Webster, who sent the ball back across the face of goal and O’Sullivan was on hand at the far post to force it home from close range.
O’Sullivan danced past several Sligo players on a 40-yard dash shortly afterwards, before having a shot from a rapidly narrowing angle saved.
Sligo went close to equalising in stoppage time through Ronan Murray, but Harps held out.
Last season, Harps preserved their top-flight status in the play-offs while the Bit o’ Red finished seventh.
It familiarisation time for many fans in the opening half as both teams have seen plenty of close-season personnel changes.
Harps boss Ollie Horgan had five debutants in his starting line-up — Sadiki, Webster, O’Sullivan, Shane McEleney, and Ryan Connolly — while Sligo had four — Darragh Noone, Penninkangas, Will Seymore, and Garry Buckley.
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FINN HARPS: McGinley; McEleney, Sadaki, Todd; Webster, Coyle (R. Harkin, 84), G. Harkin, Connolly, Russell; O’Sullivan, Cretaro (B. McNamee, 70).
SLIGO ROVERS: McGinty; Seymore, Kane, Callan-McFadden, Penninkangas; Buckley (Devers 6, 76), Morahan, Cawley, Noone; Coughlan, Murray.
Referee: D. McGraith (Dublin).