Finn Harps and Bray Wanderers have had some titanic battles in the past. Bray used to be Harps’ bogey team, and then it was the other way around. The two sides met in the FAI Cup Final almost 20 years ago, in a tie that went to a
second replay. As the teams prepare for this evening's Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup first round clash Chris Ashmore reflects on times pages, and some great clashes.

The pairing of Bray Wanderers and Finn Harps in this season’s FAI Cup is hardly a stand-out tie, and it is not expected to create a lot of pre-match hype.

But older fans of Finn Harps will not need reminding that there was a period when games between these two sides attracted some of the biggest crowds of the season to the respective venues, and for many years there was an intense rivalry between Harps and the Seagulls.

Back in 1999, the FAI Cup Final was contested by the two clubs. Two replays were required before Bray Wanderers won the competition. The initial match finished 0–0. The first replay, which stood at 1–1 after 90 minutes, finished 2–2 after extra-time. As far as Harps were concerned, this was the one that got away.

And so it was back up to Tolka Park for the second replay, prior to which the FAI announced that should the game again finish as a draw after extra-time, a penalty shoot-out would be played. However, this was not necessary as Bray won 2–1, ending Harps’ hopes of lifting the trophy for only the second time in the club’s history. Jonathan Speak (pictured above) put Harps ahead but Bray struck back with two goals from Jason Byrne, who went on to become one of the most prolific strikers in League of Ireland history – and who stands second only to Brendan Bradley in the all-time scorers list.

It’s hard to believe that it’s now almost 20 years since Harps last got to the FAI Cup Final.

Fast forward to the present day and there are still quite a few links with the current Harps set-up managed by Charlie McGeever, that lost to Bray in that second replay.

The match programme from the 1999 FAI Cup Final second replay between Finn Harps and Bray Wanderers.

Harps were captained by Declan Boyle, the current manager of the club’s under-17 team, while Kevin McHugh, who manages the under-15 team, was a substitute.

During the period 1985-2006, Harps spent their bulk of their life in Division One. In the inaugural season for the second tier, Bray emerged as champions.

And, remarkably, Bray, under the astute Pat Devlin became a real bogey team for Harps. In fact, Harps finally broke the Bray hoodoo in 1993 – at the 17th attempt – as they won a league game 2-0 thanks to goals from Colm McGonigle and Kieran Rooney.

Suddenly the tables were reversed and Harps then went on a great run of games without defeat against Bray, including a 6-2 triumph at Finn Park in November 1998.

However, they lost 3-0 to Bray just before the end of the league campaign and then the cup final defeat followed just over a month later.

There were some great personal duels between players during this period with the likes of Mick Doohan, Kieran ‘Tarzan’ O’Brien, Bo McKeever, Dermot Judge, Colm Tresson and Stephen Fox being among the most well known Wanderers to torment Harps on occasions.

Bray became known as the yo-yo club, as they moved up and down between the two divisions. However, since 2004 they have been in the top flight.

Since the millennium, Harps have only had a few short-term spells of membership in the Premier and meetings between the sides have become less frequent.

But there’s rarely a dull moment when it comes to games between these two sides.

Indeed, last season, when Harps were still in the Premier Division, Bray won 5-3 at the Carlisle Grounds, and then 3-0 at Finn Park, before Harps notched up a 3-2 away win back at the seaside venue.

Flashback – the 1999 FAI Cup Final
Second Replay at Tolka Park
Bray Wanderers 2, Finn Harps 1

The Harps team for the second replay was: Brian McKenna, Trevor Scanlon, Declan Boyle, Gavin Dykes, Jonathan Minnock, Fergal Harkin, Tom Mohan, Donal O’Brien, Paddy McGrenaghan, Jonathan Speak, James Mulligan. Subs: Eamonn Kavanagh, Ruairi Boyle, Kevin McHugh, Eamonn Sheridan, Shane Bradley.
The Bray team that day was: John Walsh, Colm Tresson, Jody Lynch, Mick Doohan, Philip Keogh, Maurice Farrell, Ray Kenny, Barry O’Connor, Stephen Fox, Kieran O’Brien, Jason Byrne. Subs: Glen Brien, Pat O’Brien, Darren Power, Stuart Connolly, Alan Smyth.

This article first appeared in the Donegal Post.

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