A Snapshot in Time – Fergal Harkin, By Bartley Ramsay Finn Harps Club Historian

Fergal Harkin and Ray Kenny 1999

As you may all be aware, myself and my good friend Joe Doherty, are working on a new book, that features every player to have played a competitive game for Finn Harps.   This is a look at some of the players that will be featured in the book.

The picture was taken during the first match played on Sunday 9th May and features Ray Kenny of Bray Wanderers sliding in to tackle Harps midfielder Fergal Harkin.   The game itself was a rather forgettable scoreless draw in front of 8,000 people.  Ray Kenny had spent the majority of the season out of the Wanderers side and his inclusion in the side was a major surprise.  Kenny, is a former Harps player and joined the club in October 2000 from Kilkenny City.

Fergal Harkin joined Harps earlier in the 1998/99 season from Bohemians.   Fergal, who was born in Ballyliffen on the Inishowen Peninsula, had joined Bohemians from Leicester City in England.  A change in manager from Joe McGrath to Roddy Collins, saw him surplus to requirements at Dalymount Park and he returned to play for his native County club.   Fergal stayed with Harps until the club were relegated in May 2001.  He returned to Dalymount Park that summer and stayed with Bohemians until the end of the 2007 season when he retired from Eircom League football.

He later played for Dunston Football Federation in the Northern League.   His work took him to Nike in England and he played briefly for Dunston Football Federation in the Northern League.  He moved to work at Manchester City, initially in a scouting role but he rose to the position of Football Partnerships and Pathways Manager.  In May 2022, he was appointed as the Sporting Director at Belgian Side, Standard Liege.

I spoke to Fergal recently about his role at Standard Liege.   When asked as to what his role is he replied “Basically everything to do with football at the club.  I hire the head coach/manager, the staff, the players and manage the football budget.   Any football decision comes to me and I report directly to my CEO and the board of the owners 777 Partners.”

When queried as to the major challenges he faces with Liege he candidly admits “We don’t have the same budget as some of the other clubs in Belgium, but we are still trying to challenge them. We have put a squad together to challenge for the League.  As we don’t have a big budget we currently have six loan players, so we will have to go again next year to build a squad. We haven’t really been able to build anything in eighteen months I have been here.   We did okay last year but then head coach Ronnie Delia left at the end of the season, which was unexpected.”  Fergal goes on to say “We won’t be able to challenge fully until we start to qualify for Europe and are able to get the revenue from television and the European games.”

He sees parallels between the League of Ireland the Belgian League “Both Leagues are ones that produce players for other countries.   The rules to bring in players from other places to Belgium are pretty lenient.   There is a minimum salary that we must pay, but, it is quite small for the level we are at.    It means you can bring in a boy from South America or Africa, a top talent and develop him here.   The Belgian League is such a physical league that clubs from the top 5 Leagues will buy from it. We know we are a stepping stone, it is hard to get the balancing act from being a stepping stone and competing yourself.   It is similar in the League of Ireland a lot of the players want to go to England.  You have to judge at what point do they leave and how you can maximise the returns.”

Fergal when into detail on Liege’s scouting plan.   “When Ronnie Delia left the club, I knew we had to recruit a coach whose style mirrored what we do at the club. The hardest job for me was to build a relationship with the new coach, Ivan Leko.  You never know what a coach is going to be like until you work with him.”

He continues on, “Both myself and the coach need to be on the same page, we have to know how we want the team to play, how the team will be set up and the type of players we want to profile. All that information gets passed onto the club scouts about twelve months in advance.   The scouts then look at those profiles, at what we can afford, and who the players are that want to come to Liege.  We work on that and then try and get our squad settled early in pre-season, so that the coach can have a decent amount of time to work with.  We both would work with the other staff as well.   We want the physical staff to make players faster, fitter and stronger. The medical staff to keep the players fit, the analysts to give them the information for match days and the other coaches working with the squad on a daily basis, who are working very closely with the head coach.”

Fergal didn’t find it a big upheaval as he admits he was working and had plenty to do.   It was harder for his wife and family.  Fergal’s wife is English and due to Brexit had to do a lot of paperwork to be able to live in Belgium.  It took her and the children about six months to settle.  His children are speaking both French and Dutch now.”

Finally he finished on this note. “As Standard are the only club in the city, everyone is so passionate about the team.”  He says “I would love to experience a big European night in the stadium.  The atmosphere is second to none when we play the big Belgian clubs.  The only atmosphere I have experienced like it is Celtic Park in Scotland.”

Fergal Harkin made 102 appearances for Finn Harps between 1999 and 2001.  In those appearances he scored 14 goals.

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