Sean Houston has re-signed for Finn Harps ahead of Friday night’s Premier Division League opener against Cork City in Ballybofey. The Letterkenny man who was the club’s player of the year last season has only been back training in the past fortnight and just featured in one pre-season game, which was Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Cabinteely in Dublin.
Harps manager Ollie Horgan expressed relief that the 27-year-old midfielder had agreed terms again. “Sean had some matters to get sorted out before he signed and I’m pleased now that he is on board ahead of the Cork game. He was a key man for us last season and got us some vital goals. We will need the same and more from Sean this year if we are to be in with a shout of staying in the Premier Division” Horgan said.
Horgan yesterday confirmed the signing of former Celtic and Northern Ireland international Paddy McCourt. The 33-year-old Derry man trained with Harps in Letterkenny last evening having played in a pre-season friendly against Cabinteely on Saturday. The final paperwork is now being completed in order to have McCourt available for the visit of the Leesiders, who are one of the favourites for the top flight title this season.
“Paddy is a very experienced player who we hope will be big asset to us for what is going to be a very tough season. Here at home he has played with top Premier teams like Shamrock Rovers and Derry City before going to Celtic, which is a huge achievement and won Scottish League and Cup titles. He also had a lot of experience in England with sides like Barnsley, Brighton, Notts County and Luton Town before moving back to the Irish League with Glenavon for the first part of last season” Horgan said.
The Harps manager sees McCourt as a player who can create chances with his silky skills and his signing will certainly put a pep in the step of front men Ciaran O’Connor and Danny Morrissey who will be aiming to be on the end of the Derry man’s assists. “Paddy has come in late so it will take him a little time to get to know the other lads. He has that natural ability to make things happen and we will need him to produce that quality because we are going to be up against very well organised defences in this division. We hope his presence will give all at the club a bit of lift for Friday night’s game against Cork City,” Horgan said.
McCourt himself is pleased to have put pen to paper for Harps and is looking forward to a new challenge back in the League of Ireland Premier Division. “I have trained a couple of times with Harps now and played against Cabinteely in Saturday. It’s a good setup here with Ollie Horgan and Paul Hegarty who are doing a good job. I’m looking forward now to being part of the squad for the new season and I want to play my part in keeping Harps in the Premier Division,” McCourt said.
Paddy started his professional career with English Third Division club Rochdale in 2001 before moving to League of Ireland club Shamrock Rovers in 2005. Later that year he moved to his home-town club, Derry City, where he won the League Cup three times in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and the FAI Cup in 2006. In 2008 he signed for Scottish Premier League club Celtic and went on to win the Scottish Cup in 2011 and 2013 and the SPL title in 2011–12 and 2012–13.
In the summer of 2013 McCourt signed a one-year contract at Championship club Barnsley before moving to Brighton & Hove Albion for the 2014–15 campaign. He joined League One club Notts County on loan for the final third of that season. He left Brighton and in July 2015 signed for League Two club Luton Town before returning to Northern Ireland last year to play wit Premiership club Glenavon.
McCourt made his Northern Ireland international debut in 2002, but did not play again until 2009. He scored his first two goals against the Faroe Islands in 2011 and made a total of 18 international appearances.
McCourt will link up with a former Derry team-mate in midfielder Barry Molloy this season, after the Derry man opted out of retirement for one more season with Harps.
The 33-year-old played 21 times for Harps last season helping to keep Horgan’s outfit in the Premier Division. “Barry did announce his retirement in November after our final game against Bohemians. But I have spoken to him in the past couple of weeks and thankfully he has agreed terms for 2017. We needed a player of Barry’s experience in that position in central midfield. He played at the top level with Derry City for many years and did a good job for us in 2016,” Horgan said.
Molloy began his career at Derby County in 1999 and spent four years there before coming back on loan to Drogheda United. In 2004 Barry signed a permanent deal at Drogheda and the following year joined Stephen Kenny at Derry City. His honours with the Candystripes included five League Cup titles as well as FAI Cup triumphs in 2006 and 2012.
In 2010 he was a member of the Derry City squad that claimed the First Division title. He left the Candystripes in December 2014.
The following January, Molloy joined Belfast club Crusaders making make five league appearances in the 2014/15 season. He featured a further four times in the following season before leaving the club in November 2015. Last March, Molloy returned to the League of Ireland with Harps. He made 20 starts and one sub appearance with the club in the 2016 campaign.
Harps treasurer Lorna McHugh has spoken about the importance of packing Finn Park on Friday night, and the buzz created by some of the club’s signings ahead of the new season.
“Everyone knows we are up against it this year and that it will be tough, but if we all pull together like we recent years and put the effort in to get off on the front foot then we can give ourselves a chance of defying the odds one more time”
“Friday should be a great occasion, Cork have been challenging Dundalk at the top of Irish football over the past few seasons and they’ll have a good following of their own. We have a fair few new attacking players aboard and there is no denying having Paddy McCourt around adds to the excitement- you watch some of the goals he has scored and they are breathtaking. There will be a cracking atmosphere and hopefully we can start this season as well as we did the last one.” said Lorna.
Tickets for their opening game of the season are now available in outlets around the county, including Michael Murphy Sports, Letterkenny; Balor Theatre, Ballybofey; Kernans, Newtown; The Coachhouse, Donegal Town; McCauley’s Restaurant, Lifford; and Ma’cs Newsagents, Buncrana.
Along with the Dubai Dream Draw, in which a holiday in the five-star Bonnington Hotel with flights and €500 spending money is on offer to the prize winner, packing Finn Park for the opening game is a vital part of the club’s plan for the early part of the year.
Meanwhile, Joe Logan will be Friday night’s guest of honour for the Harps v Cork game. Joe joined Finn Harps in January 1975 from Sligo Rovers. Joe came in a swap deal for future Ireland international Paul McGee. Jobby Crossan from Derry had secured Joe’s signature at the start of the 1974/75 season when he was briefly in charge at the Showgrounds. Jobby wasn’t able to get his own release from Belgian club Tongren and Billy Sinclair replaced him.
Joe was transfer listed by Sinclair and Patsy McGowan mooted the idea of a swap for McGee and the deal was done in the January. Joe then made his debut, on 12 January 1975 in a 4-4 draw with Drogheda in Finn Park. Joe scored his first goal in Harps colours later that season, on March 9, in another 4-4 draw this time against Athlone Town in St Mel’s Park. Harps fought back from four goals down to get a point. Joe’s goal was the third scored in the seventy-second minute. Joe didn’t have to wait too long for his second when he notched the equaliser five minutes from the end.
In total Joe made 213 appearances (17 of those as substitute) for Harps scoring 52 goals. On two occasions he was top scorer for Harps in the League of Ireland. In the 1979/80 season he shared that accolade with John Minnock both scoring ten times. Joe repeated that tally in the 1980/81 season to again be Harps’ top scorer.
A knee injury sustained away to Sligo Rovers at the end of the 1980/81 season would see Joe sidelined for a period of eighteen months. Joe had to undergo a cartilage operation in Derry in October 1981 and eventually battled back to play seven games in the 1982/83 season. Joe realised at that point his senior career was over and returned to the Donegal League to play for his first club Swilly Rovers.
Joe made a brief return to Harps in 1986 with Harps in the first division when Charlie McGeever asked him back to solve Harps midfield problems and help the younger players. Joe made six appearances scoring once, his last goal coming in a Shield game away to Sligo Rovers. His final appearance in the colours of Finn Harps came at Finn Park on 23 February 1986 against Monaghan United as Harps lost by a goal to nil.
Joe also won a representative honour in Harps colours when he played for the League of Ireland against Irish League in a one-nil victory on March 15, 1981.