Finn Harps and Cork City shared the spoils in a contest that failed to catch fire in Ballybofey tonight.
The last time the two sides crossed swords in Ballybofey in March, Cork left with a 4-3 victory in a contest glittered with stunning goals. There was nothing of that level of opportunity tonight, although Harps almost won it when Mark Timlin's shot missed the target by inches on 79 minutes with a superb effort.
Although the hosts pushed late on, it was Cork who had more of the occasional offensive play beforehand. But the fact one of the nearest instances from either team was a Conor McCarthy shot from inside his own half tells a story in itself.
Cork made the longest trek in domestic soccer, scarred from their 4-1 hammering at home by Derry City on Friday night. Harps, on the other hand, had a bit of a spring in their step with Nathan Boyle’s double in a 2-0 success over Sligo Rovers putting a halt to a five-match losing run.
This evening, in front of a patchy crowd, there was next to nothing for either goalkeeper to do in the first half. Seven minutes before the break, a Caolan McAleer free-kick was waywardly overplayed and Mark McNulty in the Cork goal gathered with zero fuss as the statisticians noted a first shot on target.
Beforehand, it was the visitors who had fashioned two half-chances. Firstly, Garry Buckley played Gearoid Morrissey in down the left and his shot was deflected away by Daniel O’Reilly. Then, Gary Boylan couldn’t hit the target in a claustrophobic penalty area after Conor McCormack’s ball in.
The visitors, who this week appointed Frank Kelleher as manager, did press in first half injury time and certainly edged the opening 45 minutes. However, both teams headed for the dressing-rooms scoreless, with plenty to think about.
The main talking point at that juncture was the non-appearance of Harper – the Finn Harps mascot – who was sent off against Sligo for motioning to make saves behind Ed McGinty’s goal.
Morrissey of Cork fired over at the start of part two, as the pattern of the first spilled into the second. Harps did create an opening when Mark Coyle teed up McAleer, who had time to tee it up and placed the ball inches wide at the Town End.
Cork then passed up on two opportunities in contrasting fashion. Morrissey nipped in ahead of Harps goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley to present Darragh Rainsford with a chance that he couldn’t keep down 15 yards out from a relatively unguarded goal.
Then, with an audacious belter from inside his own half, McCarthy had McGinley under pressure with a long-range effort that just whistled left of the post.
Finn Harps: Mark Anthony McGinley; Sam Todd, Niall Logue, Harry Ascroft (Mark Timlin half-time); Daniel O’Reilly, Jacob Borg, Mark Coyle, Gareth Harkin, Mark Russell; Caolan McAleer (Mikey Place 85); Nathan Boyle.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Conor McCarthy, Dan Casey, Sean McLoughlin; Colm Horgan, Conor McCormack, Gary Boylan (Gary Comerford 67), Gearoid Morrissey, Ronan Hurley; Garry Buckley, Darragh Rainsford (Karl Sheppard 84).
Referee: John McLoughlin.