CORK CITY make the long journey to Donegal to take on Finn Harps this Friday night.
That spin up to Ballybofey is one which is very familiar to City great John O’Flynn, who was part of the Harps squad that got promoted from the First Division last year.
Harps had an excellent second half to the season, which culminated in them beating Limerick in the promotion/relegation playoff. The experience which O’Flynn has, including a 2005 Premier Division title success with Cork City, meant that he was a player that Harps boss Ollie Horgan was very keen to sign.
Taking part in training sessions with Cork City and then travelling up for games was a big commitment, but one which O’Flynn generally found enjoyable.
“I really enjoyed it, really different to what I was used to. It was the most I have travelled in my career and towards the end of my career.
“I think it was Ollie’s passion and enthusiasm. Just before preseason, he came down around three times to have a chat with me to ask me to go up and play.
“When I heard he was coming down the first time, it never entered my head that I would be going up to play for Finn Harps.
“But Ollie’s energy and enthusiasm, he made me want to go up and play for the club. I think after the mid-season break, we kicked on from there. We really got it together.
"We had a team and a system that worked well. We lost to Dundalk in the cup and I don’t think we lost any more games other than that on the run in. It was a really good end to the season, that's just what you want really.
“We had a good result up there (in the playoffs) and coming down to Limerick, which is a tough place to go, we just had that mindset where we were going to do whatever it took to win that game and get promoted.”
There is still Cork interest at Harps this term, with John Kavanagh currently there on loan from City.
“For John’s progress, he needed to keep playing again. It was probably the best move for him and for Finn Harps who are getting a quality player.
“He played a lot of games in the First Division last year. If he can kick on and show how good a player he is and try to get back to his best in the Premier Division, then he will get noticed again.
“Which is what he wants really. It is good for City, that he is getting Premier League football if there is an injury or if he is needed to come back at any stage, he is ready to go and ready to go into the team.”
As for how the Donegal side will get on during their return to the Premier Division, O’Flynn feels that Harps will hold their own in the top flight.
“Raf (Cretaro) is a fantastic player. It is not too far for Raf to go. I think there is a young core of a squad that they’ve kept from last year. Big, strong, tough young lads and bringing in a couple of lads with experience should really help the group.
“Myself and Paddy McCourt last year were the experienced players.
"So bringing Raf in has reinforced that now. It is a shrewd move from Ollie and Paul Hegarty. They are no fools.
"I think some people think that the way they react on the line, the way they go on that they could be fools.
“But they are shrewd men and they know how to win which is the most important thing. Harps have had a good start, they have had a tough start.
"They have picked up points in games that people would have written them off in against the likes of Dundalk and St Pat's. It’s been a good start and that always helps to settle the nerves back in the Premier Division.
“I think the big test is going to be the teams who are going to be around them, the likes of UCD. But I can really see Finn Harps kicking on and finishing mid-table or even just above.
"They are a strong, physical team and bringing in the likes of Raf, that experience he has been there and done it with Sligo Rovers.
"That kind of experience will really tell. I think that Finn Harps will have a good season. Getting off to the start that they have had will give them massive confidence for a young team.”
Courtesy of his footballing exploits at Cork City, O’Flynn remains and will always be a fan favourite on Leeside. He feels City will ultimately click properly and have a good campaign.
“What the start of this league has shown is that every team is a lot closer. Teams have built good squads over the offseason and everyone is ready to go.
“You can see that with the start the Finn Harps have had, Dundalk have had a few slip-ups, Cork have had a few slip-ups.
“Over the season the better teams are going to win the most matches and I think Cork City will be up there.”