Realism outweighs optimism for outsiders Harps ahead of trip to Pats
THE bookmakers rarely get things wrong and the fact that they're offering odds of 18/1 on Finn Harps enjoying success in Dublin tomorrow and securing a place in the FAI Cup final shows how much they rate the Donegal side.
And even around their own club, there is a sense of realism rather than outright optimism as Harps try to do outwit St Patrick's Athletic and make into the final at the Saints' expense.
Teams from the lower division have, of course, triumphed in the Cup before.
Pats fans can recall that a First Division side (Waterford), which featured current Saint Kenny Browne, knocked them out in the quarter-finals in 2011 while current Pats boss Liam Buckley was on the right end of some giant-killing when his Sporting Fingal bested Sligo Rovers in the 2009 final.
But given the poor recent form of Harps in a low-quality First Division (they have lost four of their last five games and failed to score at all in seven of their last 11 outings), the feeling in Donegal is that they will need to have a very good day, and for Pats to have a real off day, for that triumph to happen.
Harps boss Ollie Horgan knows that Pats beamed with delight when they got their dream draw, home to the only First Division side left in the competition.
"I don't think anyone involved in the league will expect much from us, and our indifferent league form sitting middle of the First Division would point to that as well," says Horgan.
"But stranger things have happened and in a two-horse race you just don't know what could happen."
But a veteran coach like Horgan knows the size of the challenge ahead of him. While the other Cup semi-finalists from the Premier Division have seen their league form tail off (Derry, Shamrock Rovers), Pats have been strong with four wins and a draw from the last five.
"Pats aren't league champions for no reason," added Horgan. "They are a top-class side. There is a huge gulf in ability between us and Pats, home venue adds to our difficulties but we have to keep positive.
"Everybody wanted to get us in the semi-final draw, and we had six possibilities and we got our sixth choice. Pats got their first choice as their supporters at the draw were quick to celebrate."
There was indeed a smile on the face of Buckley when the draw was made last month but the Richmond Park boss is in the game long enough to know that upsets can happen, like the 2009 final when his Fingal side won out.
"Sporting Fingal were not favourites by any stretch of the imagination when they played Shamrock Rovers or Sligo and they popped them," says Buckley.
"They are a big side and we have done our homework on them. We don't want to give anything stupid away.
"I have seen teams play really well in semi-finals and not get through. We just want to get through as there is so much at stake.
"You can bet your bottom dollar that they are banking everything on this game. They are not winning the First Division, they won't be relegated, they will all be fit and they will be ready.
"They will be motivated to kick ass down here, you can be sure of that. They have nothing to lose and I know that having managed Sporting Fingal.
"If we concentrate on our own game, we should be okay."
Pats have one major problem for the semi-final as key midfielder Greg Bolger is suspended, a consequence of his red card offence in the quarter-final win over Bohemians.
But recent injury victims Ger O'Brien and Killian Brennan should be fit to play. Harps recall Kevin McHugh from suspension.