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'I don’t have to be here nor continue, but it’s harder to get out of than get into'

Having lost 11 players from last year, Ollie Horgan says surviving in the Premier Division this year will be Finn Harps’ toughest ask to date.

Ollie Horgan.
Ollie Horgan.
Image: Evan Logan/INPHO

AND SO IT begins, as Ollie Horgan must once again stoop and rebuild. 

Horgan’s consistently keeping Finn Harps in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division is made all the more impressive by his squad’s lack of continuity, and this off-season has seen a larger exodus than usual. 

Harps have lost 11 players since last season, including Sean Boyd  and Mark Coyle to Shelbourne, Will Seymore and Tunde Owolabi to St Patrick’s Athletic, and Shane McEleney to Derry City.

Meeting Horgan at last week’s league launch was like speaking to a soldier on the eve of war. 

“We’ve lost 11 players from the squad, which is a savage loss”, says Horgan. “On and off the pitch we’ve lost individuals that are very difficult to replace. There’s only one way of finding out and that’ll be in the next month or two.

“We’ve always lost a couple and managed to replace them but now we’ve lost 11. If Shamrock Rovers lost 11 players, they wouldn’t maintain their position whereas we have to maintain ours to survive. We’ve had battles over the years but this will be the biggest of the lot.

“We haven’t taken in 11 but got eight or nine. You’ve risks involved when a lot aren’t Irish lads. They’re good lads, very good but it’s whether they can adapt to the country, climate and most importantly the league. It is a massive, not a gamble because we’ve no choice. We couldn’t attract Irish lads with what we offer. We’ve got a few but couldn’t get value for money within the country in our eyes. We’ve had to go further afield. That was always the case but not in as many bodies as what we’ve done.

“It’s gone beyond [other clubs offering an additional] €100 a week now. There seems to be money back in the league and fair play to the clubs that are able to do that. We wouldn’t be able to afford that and have different targets. They’re always difficult off-seasons but this was the most difficult. Normal is bad for us.

“We tend to take in lads that have lost their way to give them their opportunity. That’s maybe why we’ve lost as many. No player asked to leave, we wanted them all to stay. It’s not like we felt that we could get better. We were happy with the 11 but they got better offers, either home or abroad.”

Bastien Hery and Yoyo Mahdy arrive at Harps with plenty of League of Ireland experience but they have certainly recruited from far afield: Spanish defender Jose Carillo has been signed from Slovakian club FK Senica, Dutch-born Erol Erdal Alkan has arrived from Turkish side Usakspor, and former Croatian underage international striker Filip Mihaljević has moved to Ballybofey from the Cambodian top flight. 

“How  do we do it? A lot of phone calls, a lot of travel and a couple of good people out there that help you out of the good of the player. As opposed to financial gain for themselves. But there’s risks involved. You only really know what type of players when you go see the player in person and even then you’re taking a gamble on their personality.

“You don’t get to know that ’till well into the season when you’re in the heat of the battle. We’re glad to have attracted what we attracted.”

Gavin Cooney
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2022-sse-airtricity-leagues-launch Ollie Horgan poses with the league trophy at the season launch event. Source: Harry Murphy/SPORTSFILE

Horgan didn’t get into the specifics of some of his scouting trips. 

“My wife doesn’t know [where he's been] and I’ve no intention of telling the public! It wasn’t as exorbitant as other years when there were no restrictions on travel. I certainly would have gone far or wide. We’re not the only ones looking outside because of value for money.” 

Harps’ season begins at home to Drogheda United on Friday night, and when asked to look ahead to the opening weeks of the 2022 season, Horgan gave the kind of prodigious display of yerraing that would breed scepticism even in Kerry GAA. 

“It’s always apprehensive. We’re probably the only easy game for other teams. Well, we took in players last year that nobody wanted, all of a sudden they did well and moved on. While we can’t complain about anyone getting a better offer, it’s a kick in the teeth. That’s hard going and you’ve got to go again.

“If we lose 11 again at the end of next year, we’ll have done well. I’m not moaning. I don’t have to be here nor continue, as others haven’t but it’s harder to get out of than get into. That’s the long and short of it.” 

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Gavin Cooney

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