2023 Season Review: Finn Harps
Team: Finn Harps
Head Coach: Dave Rogers (until September 2023) Darren Murphy (September 2023 - present)
Top Scorer: Ryan Flood (14 goals - 12 League, 2 FAI Cup)
Stadium: Finn Park
Highest Attendance: 2,552 (v Galway United in February)
Lowest Attendance: 544 (v Athlone Town in October)
Star Player: Ryan Flood
The 25-year-old Arizona native was making his first splash in League of Ireland waters when following former boss Dave Rogers to Finn Park ahead of the 2023 season.
The left sided player recorded five assists and netted a dozen league goals - including scoring a hat trick in his final league game against Athlone Town - from a mixture of open play, free kicks (two) and penalties (five) to become one of the division's highest scorers.
What he added to Harps cannot be overstated as, in a season awash with a high turnover of playing staff, he was the only player to feature in over 30 of the 36 league games - making 34 league appearances in total and racking up over 1,000 minutes more than anyone else in the squad over the entire campaign.
Second on the list of minutes completed is utility player and former Republic of Ireland underage international Noe Baba who also warrants inclusion in the conversation having racked up 28 league outings across the backline, five years after departing Waterford in his last League of Ireland season.
Another contender may have been Letterkenny's Ryan Rainey, who netted four times in his 20 league appearances, however a three month midseason absence through injury curtailed the skipper's influence on the campaign.
Best Young Player: Sean O’Donnell
Here's an area where Harps have plenty of candidates as a plethora of teenagers were given a taste of First Division action.
Whether that's 16-year-old Oisín Cooney between the sticks making his senior debut in the final game of the season, 18-year-old Daithí McCallion enjoying a stellar campaign in the Harps defence on loan from Derry City by featuring in 24 league outings.
Having started with the Finn Harps Under 17s in February, exciting attacker Aaron McLaughlin made rapid progress throughout the year and featured in 15 First Division games, scoring once and playing 268 of the last 270 league minutes - earning a recent call up to the Republic of Ireland Under 18 squad.
Another to come through the underage ranks was 20-year-old Kevin Jordan and the defender featured over 20 times in the league for the senior side as well as playing a similar amount of minutes with the Under 19s in 2023. Harps recognise his promise and have already offered a contract for the season ahead.
Other Academy graduates to make an impression on the first team in 2023 included Damian Duffy (12 league appearances, one goal), Patrick Ferry (12 league apps, two goals) and Max Johnston (seven league apps) while debuts were made by 17-year-old Darragh Coyle, 16-year-old Shaunie Bradley, 18-year-old Seán O'Kane, 17-year-old Brendan McLaughlin and 19-year-old Adam Duffy whilst another pair of Under 19s Caoimhin Bonnar and Jamie McKinney were others to wear the Harps colours at senior level for the first time in 2023.
However, the accolade goes to 19-year-old Sean O’Donnell.
Having made his debut during the 2022 season, 2023 was the exciting attacker’s breakthrough campaign and his three league goals and 10 assists from 14 starts and 14 sub appearances meant he was responsible for a third of the league goals they scored. His versatility also proved to be a major asset - operating on either wing and also up front if required.
Best New Signing: Ryan Flood
At various times in the season this award could have had a number of winners. Prior to his season ending injury in July, German goalkeeper Tim Heimer had amassed seven clean sheets in his 23 league games in his first taste of the League of Ireland.
Similarly, 20-year-old defender Ellis Farrar had his loan spell at Finn Park cut short due to injury after 16 league appearances.
The summer window saw an influx of signings with the arrivals of Max Hutchinson, Matthew Makinson and Jamie Watson who all made 14 league appearances in the second half of the season, as did the returning Tony McNamee while Play Off goalscoring hero BJ Banda notched up 15 league appearances and three goals following his July re-signing, 23-year-old returnee Stephen Doherty also turned out 15 times in the league after also coming back to Ballybofey in July.
However, across the entire campaign, despite some impressive showings from Seamas Keogh (21), who racked up 24 league appearances and a goal after arriving from Sligo Rovers at the start of the season, and the aforementioned Baba, it's another gong which has to go to the American who is surely turning the heads of clubs further up the division and beyond.
What we expected they would do:
Perhaps buoyed by the number of new recruits and the energy and enthusiasm of the iconic Dave Rogers, our staff writers predicted a third place finish for the Harps.
What they actually did:
After defeats in their opening two league games, Dave Rogers' men went unbeaten for the next four games – securing three draws and a win - before a 7-1 reverse in Waterford was followed by another four game unbeaten run - two wins and two draws on this occasion.
However, the next seven games saw only a single win (away to Treaty United) and a goalless draw at home to basement outfit Kerry FC before they conceded six goals twice in June (away to Waterford and Galway United respectively).
They went through July unbeaten, including an FAI Cup victory over Kilbarrack United, however a brace of defeats in a week (away to Athlone Town and home to Treaty United) saw the run come to a shuddering halt.
There followed a 5-0 FAI Cup routing of Skerries Town, however in the league Harps went five games without a win and saw a late Tom Lonergan effort knock them out of the FAI Cup in the middle of the sequence.
The following league game, a 5-1 defeat at the hands of Cobh Ramblers, was Rogers' last as head coach.
Darren Murphy, who has recently been appointed Head Coach on a permanent basis, guided the side to two wins (v Athlone Town and Kerry) and a draw in their final five games, earning seven points and finishing with 37 points - three behind 8th placed Longford Town.
What they need to improve on for next year:
Much like fellow dwellers in the basement of the First Division Kerry, Finn Harps saw a number of custodians between the sticks.
However, in the Donegal men’s story it was an injury to the number one after 23 league games which saw Cooney (one league appearance), Antonio Tuta (seven) and Rory Kelly (five) all take turns minding the nets while 19 year olds Oisin Farrell and Ryan Galvin sat on the senior bench without playing a senior minute for the club.
Looking at the teams involved in the promotion race, all have a settled goalkeeping department and this may be something Darren Murphy may look at for next season.
Settled may be the order of the day for Harps in 2024 as they were one of the most active teams in the transfer market in 2023 - an example of this is the fact that Ryan Rainey was the only player to start both the first and last games of the season for the club.
Indeed, of the 11 who started that opening encounter in February, only three others kicked a ball for Harps post August - Ryan Flood, Seamus Keogh and Derry City loanee Caoimhin Porter.
As mentioned earlier in the piece, a plethora of Academy products represented the senior side in 2023 and much of the newly appointed permanent manager Darren Murphy’s off season may be taken up with assessing how many of these are suitable for next year - the mid-season recruitment saw a number of locals returning to the side with BJ Banda, Stephen Doherty and Tony McNamee playing key roles at the back end of the season.
The final lineup of the campaign saw seven Donegalmen in the starting lineup with another four on the bench while Murphy’s first 20 man matchday squad contained 13 Donegal natives, not including the suspended Sean O’Donnell.
The recent contracts offered to Tony McNamee and Kevin Jordan suggest this approach has already kicked off.