Harps welcome the 2020 League of Ireland champions Shamrock Rovers to Ballybofey on Sunday evening (kick off 7.45pm).
While the Hoops may be unbeaten all season, Harps come into the game in a rich vein of form and face a team who haven’t played in nearly a month due to this fixture being postponed in October due to international call ups from the Rovers squad and then a coronavirus outbreak within the Hoops camp.
With Harps unbeaten in six games and with back-to-back victories over Bohemians (2-0 in Dalymount) and St. Patrick’s Athletic (3-2 in Finn Park), Ollie Horgan’s men have real hope that they can avoid the relegation play-off.
Ninth placed Harps sit two points behind Shelbourne, St. Pat’s and Derry City - with a game in hand on Shels, having played a game more than the Saints and on the same number of matches played as the Candystripes.
Captain Gareth Harkin is happy with where the Harps squad is, coming into their penultimate game of the season
"There's a lot more confidence in the squad, and a lot more togetherness too,” said Harkin. “It's good to see."
The Harps win in Dalymount Park last weekend relegated Cork City ensuring them a play-off spot at the very least but with two home games to round out the season - they will welcome Waterford to Ballybofey next weekend - automatic safety is still available to them.
Shamrock Rovers were crowned champions last week thanks to Harps beating Bohemians and when extratime.com put it to Horgan after that win that he wouldn’t have to buy a pint in Tallaght whenever the pubs re-opened, he joked that in return “maybe Shamrock Rovers can help us next weekend when they come up!”
The Hoops will play their first game since becoming League of Ireland champions when they travel Ballybofey to take on Finn Harps on Sunday evening. Head Coach Stephen Bradley ahead of the game spoke how his squad deserves “tremendous credit” for wrapping up the title with four games to spare.
“It’s something that had been our aim and something that we’d been building towards,” said Bradley about their league title win. “The group have worked so hard to make it happen. For all the players and staff it’s a great reward for a lot of hard work so we’re delighted.
“In an 18-game season I expected it to go right down to the wire. An 18-game season brings a lot of pressure because it means that you can’t slip up anywhere, there’s no margin for error.
"I think the players have been fantastic at handling that pressure and playing with that pressure and they got their rewards. To win it with four games left shows how ruthless they were.”
Rovers haven’t lost a domestic game this season or suffered defeat on the road since September 2019 and their aim now is to go through the whole campaign without a loss.
“We know it’s going to be hard. Finn Harps will be a really tough game and the teams we have left to play are all fighting for points. They’ll be tough games but we believe if we perform to our levels that we can win all the games and that’s definitely the target of ours.”
The enforced break has allowed Pico Lopes return to fitness but Rovers having not played for nearly month - along with Jack Byrne and Aaron Greene returning having contracted COVID-19, it could yet be a difficult day in Ballybofey.
“You’re never quite sure until you’re on the pitch. The players have obviously trained hard but until you get onto the pitch and you get the first 20 minutes under your belt you’re not sure where you are.”
Referee: Rob Hennessy
Harps have only avoided defeat against the Hoops once in their last dozen games. Rovers beat Harps 3-1 in Tallaght in the first game back after the COVID-19 shutdown. Last year the Hoops won all five matches between the teams last year - Rovers scored nine goals and conceded none. The previous year Rovers won all three games while in 2017 Rovers won 1-0 and 2-0 in Finn Park but drew with Harps 1-1 in Tallaght.
Harps have won two of their seven home games this season whereas the Hoops have won six and draw one of their games on the road.
The two teams will face each other one more this season after Sunday with their FAI Cup quarter-final due to take place in Donegal on 14 November with the winner of that tie at home in the semi-final to either Sligo Rovers or Derry City.
Finn Harps 6/1; Draw 7/2; Shamrock Rovers 4/11.
2-0 away win.
Injured: Greg Bolger, Rory Gaffney
Suspended: Graham Burke