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Playoff challenge awaits Horgan’s Harps

If there is one club that knows all about the League of Ireland promotion / relegation playoffs, it is Finn Harps. With eight appearances to date in playoff series, no club has more.

Although Harps lost 1-0 to Shamrock Rovers on Friday night, UCD’s defeat in Cork means Ollie Horgan’s men have effectively secured the club’s ninth play-off – they are six points clear of the Students with two games remaining but with a better goal difference of 17 over UCD.

Harps have won promotion from the First Division through the playoff route three times (2007, 2016, and 2018) but as incumbents in the top flight it is a different scenario for them this season as they look to hold onto their Premier Division berth. 

Bray Wanderers in 2013 were the last Premier Division side to stay up via the playoff and Ollie Horgan is aware of the challenge that faces his team when he spoke to after the game in Tallaght on Friday.

“We know about coming into the playoff from the other side, winning games in the First Division last year and a number of years back but it is a very difficult ask of the Premier Division side,” said Horgan who hasn’t seem his team win in the league since a 1-0 victory over Bohs at the start of August.

“If you look at the stats, we know we are going to be under serious pressure. Realistically we will be the underdogs coming into this. We are playing sides that we know well from last year – whatever one we play – and they’ll be full of confidence.”

Harps will either be facing Cabinteely – after their penalty shoot-out win over Longford Town last Friday – or Drogheda United who finished runners up to Shelbourne in the First Division. 

“We will be coming into the playoff having struggled, huffed and puffed in the Premier Division. It is a huge huge challenge for us and to survive it would probably be the best achievement possible if we are able to do it – but it is a massive if.

“We had momentum last year coming into the playoff, as will the First Division side whoever they are. They will come into the playoff on a roll. It is a massive challenge for us. We are quite realistic but we are delighted to be there.”

In Tallaght on Friday night, they failed again to score against the Hoops – Rovers have won all five matches with five clean sheets against Harps this season. 

Horgan’s men had chances to score – early and late Nathan Boyle opportunities in particular – but, just like back in March in Finn Park, Greg Bolger got the only goal of the game to claim all three points for Shamrock Rovers.

“Greg Bolger has a habit of doing that to us. He scored a brilliant goal against us up in Ballybofey at the start of the year. We didn’t take the couple of chances that we had at the other end.

“Shamrock Rovers had the majority of the possession but for it to work you need to defend properly for the 90 minutes and you need to take whatever scraps you get at the other end. We did neither.

“We have to move on very quickly and we wish Shamrock Rovers well in the remainder of the league and in the cup final.”

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