Finn Harps will kick-off their 40th season in League of Ireland football when they welcome First Division Champions Cobh Ramblers to Finn Park on Friday evening (kick-off 8.00pm).
These two sides had a real ding-dong battle at the top of the table last season with Cobh winning the league with just a point to spare over Harps.
Thankfully, Paul Hegarty’s team too gained promotion, albeit via the play-off routes.
However, this won’t be a First Division fixture this time around as Cobh and Harps square up to one another for the first time ever in a Premier Division game.
Three teams will be relegated this season from the Premier Division as the top flight gets ready to become a ten-team league from 2009 onwards.
With Cobh and Harps among the bookies favourites for a quick return to the second tier, both Paul Hegarty and Stephen Henderson will be hoping to pick up maximum points from this opening day fixture.
“It is important that we get off to a good start to avoid being in a battle to avoid the drop and I think we have a squad of players available that is more than capable of helping us finish up the table,” said Harps boss Hegarty.
“We’re going to go out and try and win the match against Cobh. That was the approach we took last season and it served us well.”
No less than six new faces arrived at Finn Park during the winter months and Hegarty is content with his squad. “I think that I have put together a very good squad and hopefully the results will show that. We have signed good experienced men like Gary Beckett, Stuart Malcolm and Aaron Labonte and along with Marc Mukendi, Gerry Gill and Shaun Williams I think we will be more than okay.”
However, Hegarty will have to plan without two of the new faces for the opening day fixture. Marc Mukendi could be out for the best part of a month with a groin strain while Gary Beckett picked up a knee injury in training this week and will also miss out.
Jonathan Minnock, who was a revelation in the centre of defence last season, looks like he too will have to sit out the game with a recurring achillies problem.
Therefore, new signings Aaron Labonte and Stuart Malcolm look set to start in the centre of the Harps defence with Sean Roddy and Shaun Holmes filling the two full back roles.
James Gallagher, who kept 21 clean sheets last season, will again wear the number one shirt. In midfield, the pairing of Shaun McGowan and team captain Tony Shields is unlikely to be broken, while another new face Shaun Williams will start on the left wing.
It’s a pick between Chris Breen and Gerry Gill for the right midfield spot while last season’s front two of Stephen Parkhouse and Conor Gethins should start up front.
Although they lost 1-0 on their last visit to Ballybofey, Cobh were unbeaten in the three games prior to this at Finn Park – winning two and drawing one.
9th September 2006 (First Division) Finn Harps 1 Cobh Ramblers 2
4th November 2006 (First Division) Cobh Ramblers 3 Finn Harps 0
25th March 2007 (First Division) Cobh Ramblers 1 Finn Harps 0
25th May 2007 (First Division) Finn Harps 0 Cobh Ramblers 2
28th July 2007 (First Division) Cobh Ramblers 0 Finn Harps 0
28th September 2007 (First Division) Finn Harps 1 Cobh Ramblers 0
Form guide (last six league games):
Finn Harps: W-W-W-W-D-W (16pts)
Cobh Ramblers: W-W-W-W-W-W (18pts)
Friday’s game at Finn Park kicks-off at 8.00pm.