Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Lorcan Doherty/INPHO McCourt: first-half penalty was the game's only goal.
# Final Spot
Paddy McCourt's winner gives Finn Harps slender edge in promotion/relegation play-off
Harps take a one-goal lead into Friday night’s second leg in Limerick.

Finn Harps 1-0 Limerick FC

Alan Foley reports from Finn Park

PADDY MCCOURT SCORED the only goal from the penalty spot meaning Finn Harps will take a slender lead to Limerick on Friday night for the second leg of the promotion/relegation play-off.

McCourt rolled home the 36th-minute spot kick, sending goalkeeper Tommy Holland the wrong way after Jesse Devers had been upended by Killian Brouder.

On the balance of things, the goal came against the run of play. Limerick were certainly the better side over the course of the game and will fancy their chances of getting back into the tie at Markets Field with the final place in next season’s Premier Division up for grabs.

Harps were forced to line out without goalkeeper Ciaran Gallagher, who picked up a knee ligament injury having kept six clean sheets in his last 10 outings.

His replacement Peter Burke was playing for the Ballybofey club for only the fourth time and had a slice of luck on 10 minutes when he charged from his goal only to lose the race to Conor Ellis, who rounded the goalkeeper in a flash but could only strike the near post with the angle diminishing.

The visitors, who were beaten in the promotion-relegation play-off at Finn Park three years ago, saw a Barry Maguire shot blocked by Sam Todd and Burke made a point-blank save from Ellis following Shaun Kelly’s ball in from the right.

Harps had a couple of blasts towards the end of the first half, but Mikey Place and Nathan Boyle’s strikes were both blocked out in a crowded Limerick penalty area.

Holland had to be alert on 52 minutes to keep out a shot from Boyle with his knees.

Just after the hour mark, Billy Dennehy was unfortunate not to hit the target with a volley.

Limerick then lost goalkeeper Holland to injury having landed awkwardly in making a save from a Devers header. His replacement was 21-year-old Jack Brady, who, like Burke, was making his fourth appearance of the 2018 season.

At the other end, Gareth Harkin was forced to head off the line from Maguire as Limerick pressed in the final 10 minutes. Limerick continued to pile on the pressure and Maguire drew a fine stop from Burke.

That came moments after Limerick appealed for a penalty for handball against Keith Cowan, who was very close to William Fitzgerald’s volley.

Harps certainly rode their luck – surviving seven minutes of injury time – and are now unbeaten in 13 matches. If they can extend that run to 14 they will be in the top flight next season, but whether one goal is enough to take to Markets Field remains to be seen. 

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Finn Harps: Peter Burke; Jacob Borg, Keith Cowan, Sam Todd; John Kavanagh, Jesse Devers (Niall Logue 89), Paddy McCourt (Oluwatunmise Sobowale 76), Gareth Harkin, Ciaran Coll; Mikey Place, Nathan Boyle (John O’Flynn 90+7).

Limerick: Tommy Holland (Jack Brady 69); Shaun Kelly, Kilian Cantwell, Kilian Brouder, Shane Tracy; Billy Dennehy, Cian Coleman, Shane Duggan, Karl O’Sullivan (William Fitzgerald 53); Conor Ellis (Danny Morrissey 79), Barry Maguire.

Referee: Robert Harvey.

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