Shamrock Rovers are the most improved side in the League of Ireland Premier Division this season – that’s the view of Finn Harps manager Ollie Horgan as the Donegal club prepares to host the table toppers in Ballybofey tonight.
Horgan notes that the visitors could have availed of the opportunity to request that the game be postponed as they have three players on international duty.
When two or more players from one club are called up for international duty, a club can look to call off their own game and that is what Bohemians, UCD, Waterford and Derry City all did for matches there were originally scheduled for tonight.
“The fact that they have not shows the strength of their squad,” the Harps boss pointed out.
So Horgan is thankful that the game is going ahead as any re-scheduled match would probably be on a Monday, and that can put added pressures on the part-time players of Harps, especially if they have played on a Friday.
Rovers, who are four points clear at the top, will be without Jack Byrne, who has been called into the Republic of Ireland senior squad, and Trevor Clarke and Brandan Kavanagh who are both in the Republic's under-21 panel.
“Rovers are serious side, we’d love to have three players called up to international squad,” Horgan said, adding: “They can rotate their squad and there is very little difference such is their quality.”
The Hoops have already beaten Harps 3-0 in Tallaght this season and will be fancied to stretch their lead at the summit on a night when this is the only Premier Division game that is on.
Harps, who were well beaten in a 3-0 defeat by UCD are still searching for a first win of the season, and games don’t come much tougher than this.
“We will need everything to go our way to get something out of this,” remarked Horgan.
Harps are bottom of the table but they have played well in most of their games so far, and their points tally arguably does not reflect their performances.
Looking ahead to the game, Rovers manager Stephen Bradley said: “This is a massive opportunity for us to get three more points on the board.”
But he acknowledged that Harps, despite their poor start to the season, will still be a test. “It will be a difficult game though. Finn Harps have proved to be difficult to beat at home but I fully believe we are ready and focused,” he said.
When the sides last met at Finn Park in the Premier Division in 2017, Rovers won 1-0 with the only goal scored by Michael O’Connor, who is now with Linfield.
Next up after Rovers is an away trip to Waterford and then there is the prospect of a home derby clash with Derry City.
Horgan must plan without captain Gareth Harkin, who looks like being out for the rest of the season with an achilles injury, while Mark Timlin is still a number of weeks away from a return to action.
Kick-off is 8.00 pm.
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