SKERRIES HARPS are determined to shake off the “underdog” tag and establish themselves firmly back in AFL1, as the returning Fingal club take the place of nearby St Sylvester’s at the top table.
Harps have been relegated and promoted in consecutive seasons and feel their young, skillful squad will quickly surmount their status as one of the top-tier’s smaller clubs and threaten in the top half of the table.
“Anyone who is writing us off on the basis that Skerries Harps aren’t a big club isn’t doing so based on the players,” manager Ciaran Roche told the Dublin Gazette. “We have a strong young squad and we’ll be very competitive.”
Roche singled out the young Smith brothers Jack, Eoin and Stephen, who between them have played for the Dublin seniors, several age group sides and the Westmeath senior side. There is also plenty of experience to be found around the team, giving them added depth, and a number of other players who’ve played for Dublin and their age group sides.
The opening contest of the season is as tough as they come, however: a trip to St Vincent’s that might feature the enigmatic Diarmuid Connolly.
“We’re assuming he’ll be playing,” Roche said. “He’s one of only a handful of players that you have to make specific plans for. Most would just fall into our defensive system but he’s something special.”
Roche would know. He was part of a St Sylvester’s side that conceded a particularly extravagant Connolly goal a few years ago, a goal that went viral after Connolly lashed in a low hand-pass on the volley after a move from the halfway line.
His old side give an odd symmetry to Harps new top-tier status.
“We’ve taken my old club St Sylvester’s fixtures,” Roche laughs. “The only time Sylvester’s ever got one over on St Vincent’s when I was there was the in the first game of the league season.
“They have a new manager so we’re not really sure what to expect. We’ve got used to winning in division two. I’m not sure we’re expecting to win this one, but we’ll give it a shot, it could happen.”
There’s no fear of a repeat relegation at Harps, then, with the men in blue looking to fly higher.
“It won’t be long before we get a landmark win,” Roche said. “We could have beaten St Vincent’s and Na Fianna in the last couple of years, we ran both close.
“It’s a massively young team, scarily young, but with the added experience that comes from a few seasons in the senior team. We were unlucky to go down two years ago, having won three and drawn five.
“We’re definitely not going to be favourites in a few of these games, but I think we’ll surprise a few people.
“We’ve been back since early January, after having a bit of a break through November and December. We’re ready to go.”