Finn Harps 0 Cork City 1
John Caulfield celebrated his 100th league game in charge of Cork City as his side battled against the elements to bag the points against a hugely plucky Finn Harps side at Finn Park.
Sean Maguire’s 44th-minute strike proved to be the winner in a highly entertaining and well-contested encounter.
City had to play the final 20 minutes with 10 men after Garry Buckley got a second yellow card for a rash challenge on Ciarán O’Connor, and at times they were clinging on in a rip-roaring finish.
Cork began with three new arrivals, Ryan Delaney, Jimmy Keohane and Conor McCormack, while Harps had four players in their starting 11 who were making their debuts, Killian Cantwell, Ciarán O’Connor, Caolan McAleer, and former City striker Danny Morrissey.
Harps’ big name signing, the former Northern Ireland international Paddy McCourt, was on the bench for the home side, but came on for the final quarter.
With heavy rain during the week, the fixture only went ahead following two pitch inspections and a final go-ahead shortly before 5pm.
In the build-up, Caulfield had warned about the negative approach that may be employed by some teams in a division where three out of 12 will be relegated at the end of the season. One assumes he certainly had Harps in mind.
So the onset of more rain during the warm-up fuelled concerns an energy-sapping battle of Ballybofey was on the cards.
However, the opening quarter was surprisingly open with Cork looking the more polished outfit while Harps looked lively on the counter-attack. It was more like a cup-tie. City captain Johnny Dunleavy, who hails from Ballybofey, was quickly into action to make a number of important clearances against a Harps side who had the elements behind them in the first-half.
City’s first shot on target did not materialise until the 26th minute when Kevin O’Connor’s effort was stopped by Ciarán Gallagher.
But Maguire was buzzing around the Harps’ penalty area and the threat was there for all to see. At the other end, a Johnny Bonnar free flashed across Mark McNulty’s goal on the half hour.
But Maguire then pounced on a defensive mix-up to steer the ball home past Ciarán Gallagher from inside a crowded box to give City the lead in the 44th minute.
City began the second-half positively and Harps survived a real scare as the ball came off the post following a goalmouth scramble.
However, Caolan McAleer reminded City they could ill-afford to slacken off as he drove a low, hard shot that was capably dealt with by Mark McNulty on 56 minutes.
The dismissal of Buckley added to the drama in a charged final period as Harps pressed hard for an equaliser.
Twice Maguire hit the post in the space of 15 seconds late on and although Harps kept pushing forward City held on.
The crowd of just around 1,800 was well down on the capacity 4,300 attendance for the opener against Derry City last season. The wintry conditions and the fact that Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane was attending a 900 people sell-out function in nearby Letterkenny didn’t help.
Finn Harps: Gallagher; Boyle, Cantwell, McNulty, Coll; McAleer, Molloy, Bonner, Houston; Morrissey, O’Connor.
Subs: McCourt for Houston (68 mins), Harkin for Molloy and Dsane for Morrissey (both 77 mins).
Cork City: McNulty; McCormack, Dunleavy, Delaney, O’Connor; Keohane, Morrissey, Bolger, Buckley, Dooley; Maguire.
Subs: Sheppard for Bolger (68), Bennett for Dooley (89).
Referee: R. Harvey (Dublin).
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