THERE’S no beating around the bush, Cork City’s game against Finn Harps on Sunday is one of the biggest games for the club in recent years.
I’ve played in Champions League and Europa League qualifiers for the club as well as an FAI Cup final, but this fixture is more important than those.
It’s not a game that City have to win but a game that they must not lose. Defeat against Harps, would leave the Rebel Army four points adrift of the Donegal side, a gap that might be too much for City to reduce with only seven games remaining.
Every player on that pitch on Sunday will be aware of just how big a game it is and the consequences that the result could play on the futures of both clubs.
Players are playing for their futures. There will be players on contracts for next season but that will depend on whether the club is in the Premier or First Division.
It’s more than likely, that there will be a relegation clause in their contract, meaning that player’s contracts will be void if the club are not in the Premier Division.
Even, if players are offered a contract, were the club to be relegated, it would be a lower wage.
Having experienced playing in Finn Park on many occasions, it’s not a game that players relish playing in.
There is nothing enjoyable about the long trip to Ballybofey. Players are stuck on a bus for hours. The game is always an overnighter, which I never liked as a player. I just always seemed to struggle to sleep in a different bed. I didn’t like being told what and when I could eat.
Some players might like the fact that their food is made for them but I always preferred making my own meals and eating at times that suited me not having to work around 20 other people.
Finn Park isn’t the most welcoming place. The dressing rooms are the worst I’ve been in. There is little space in them, players are on top of each other and I can’t imagine it is possible to for social distancing in the dressing room.
There are no toilets in the dressing rooms and players from both teams have to share two cubicles between them, which might not seem an issue but it just adds to the illusion that Finn Park is not a nice place to be in.
It’s rare for the pitch to be in a good condition. It’s difficult to pick out any positives about playing in Finn Park.
It’s going to be a battle on Sunday, I don’t envision much free-flowing football being on show, which is understandable. Players are going to be nervous because of the importance of the game and won’t want to take risks.
Harps go into the game undefeated in their last two fixtures and the man – Barry McNamee - who scored their equaliser in their last game against Shelbourne, is the key man for Ollie Horgan’s side on Sunday.
McNamee, a former City player, will be itching to get one over on his former club. The Donegal native’s time with City was seen as a disappointment by some on leeside but McNamee has proved since his departure from the Rebel Army that when played in his best position, he is one of the best players in the league.
Although Harps are favourites heading into the game, there is more pressure on City to get a result from the match. City are one of the biggest clubs in the country whereas Harps are a part-time team who were always expected to be in a relegation battle.
The Donegal club are probably a lot more prepared to be playing first division football next season than City. The Rebel Army are a full time club and relegation would more than likely see the club go back to part-time.
Again, I revert back to just how important this game is for the players. Harps are part-time, I would assume their players are earning a living away from football but the City players are full time.
If the worst were to happen, and City were relegated, and had to go part-time, then most of those players would need to find another job to pay their bills and take it from someone who has been a professional footballer all their life, it isn’t to easy getting a job when all you have is a professional footballer on your CV.