MISSION: VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE II
Dundalk are good. This much we know.
Just how perhaps remains to be determined by their fate in the Europa League groups beginning this week, but for now we can reasonably surmise they're the best team in the league.
In spite of this, most teams in the league, if not quite expecting to beat Stephen Kenny's side, at least deign to maintain the illusion that, on their day, they can potentially compete with the best.
Not so Finn Harps.
Not convinced were the Ballybofey side by the Lilywhites' two league losses in August, to Galway and Bray Wanderers – a side who were, at the time, below them in the table.
That Dundalk had shoehorned the fixture in three days before their opening Europa League tie with AZ Alkmaar, and thus could be expected to partake in at least some rotation, mattered little.
Harps' pre-match press releases have never been particularly noted for their striking notes of optimism, there was something special about Sunday's circular, entitled 'Mission Virtually Impossible.'
What was remarkable wasn't quite the factual content of the release – if there were a league table for thoroughness and attention to detail, Harps would rank near the top – but the sheer scale of defeatism therein.
“Reigning League of Ireland Premier Division champions Dundalk will be raging hot favourites to defeat Finn Harps,” it read, as if relieved to avoid the torrent of abuse that rains in from online gamblers when an unexpected result has busted their seemingly safe accumulator.
“It's going to be a daunting task for for Ollie Horgan's men to get even a point from the task,” it went on.
“That is the scale of the challenge facing a Donegal side that has lost its last fives games, failing to find the net once during that dismal run.”
The text would go on to mention no fewer than three times the fact that Harps had conceded ten goals against the champions this season, including “a 7-0 hammering at Finn Park.”
Now there are valid reasons for such pessimism – Harps are an amateur side in their first season back at this level, and they'll perhaps argue they're better off prioritising games they have a realistic chance of taking something from.
Yet Harps have taken four points – including a dramatic opening day win – from cross-border rivals Derry City, and drew away with Shamrock Rovers, so it's not as if they don't have form for competing with sides at the top of the table.
Harps, on the strength of the release, hadn't so much thrown the towel in before the fight began as left the towel in the dressing room and shown up smothered in vaseline to pre-empt the cuts they were bound to suffer on the way to an eighth-round stoppage.
But then something remarkable happened.
Well, not really. Harps lost 2-0, having trailed from the sixth minute. Horgan was sent to the stands for protesting a yellow card awarded for alleged time-wasting against goalkeeper Ciaran Gallagher.
But the point is that it could have. Horgan's philosophy is based in pragmatism, and he doesn't have access to the player pool or level of preparation of other sides. But it's the possibility that anything (within reason) could happen that keeps us all coming back.
To flip the story on its head, Stephen Kenny's side have got where they are through hard work, dedication and a relatively large budget – true – but also because they had the belief they could raise their game above what seemed reasonable.
They did it against BATE in Tallaght, they did it in Warsaw and the chance is there, however small, they may just surprise a few when they take to the field at AFAS Stadion to face AZ Alkmaar on Thursday.
FROM THE ECHO CHAMBER
Austria down to ten after Ramadani kicks out at O'Shea before head butting him. Some temper.— Gavin White (@gavwcb) September 6, 2016
Harps keeper Ciaran Gallagher yellow carded for time-wasting. Should be noted that Gallagher was waiting for Dundalk to make a substitution— Mark McCadden (@markmccadden) September 12, 2016
Playin week in week out to been left in the stands with no explanation.if I had of stayed another week I probably wud of had to pay in.— Gavin Brennan (@gavinbrennan8) September 13, 2016
Clean sheet against Sligo then dropped for the next game? Fucking joke. Maybe if I was local/half decent I'd get more starts? #havinagavin— Richard Brush (@richbrush) September 13, 2016
Kudos to our president Michael D Higgins who paid a visit to my sons' school today and was urging all the kids to support League of Ireland— Eric Lalor (@ericlalor) September 13, 2016
Macdara Ferris picked through Dundalk's dream and approaching domestic fixture nightmare.
Rovers boss Stephen Bradley told Dave Donnelly he'll stick to his tactical guns in Cork despite a 5-0 reverse in the same fixture on Friday.
Former Shamrock Rovers and UCD striker Andy Myler spoke to Dan Lucey.
IN THE NEWS
Holders Dundalk will host Derry City in the FAI Cup semi-finals, while Cork City travel to St Patrick's Athletic.
Shamrock Rovers confirmed the departure of Gavin Brennan by mutual agreement.
Sue Ronan named eight home-based players in her Republic of Ireland squad to face Portugal.
Dylan Connolly was voted Extratime.ie's Premier Division Player of the Month for August. Limerick's Paul O'Conor won the First Division honour.
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