When Harps won the Junior Cup in 1968, they were playing in the Derry & District League. McGowan had the idea of joining forces with Foyle Rovers and the cup success was borne from this. McGowan had seen the success of the Foyle Rovers side and remembers ‘from playing with the boys in the D& D and summer cups over the years we got to know the players and in particular Ritchie Kelly well. Foyle was the best team in Derry at the time and I went to Ritchie and Pat McLaughlin and said, if we can get the Foyle Rovers boys, together with the three or four players we have, we would have a panel of sixteen good players.’ Patsy acknowledged without Foyle Rovers, Harps would never have got into senior football ‘They were not just the dominant team in the summer cups at the time they also had a good committee. The perfect set-up was in place for us.’
Foyle Rovers’ inspiration was a football man who had made his reputation with Foyle Harps, Pat ‘Crack’ McLaughlin. He was according to Ritchie Kelly ‘an unassuming, knowledgeable, determined and honest man. He built a Foyle Rovers side that didn’t know the meaning of defeat, and graft and commitment allied to skill were the qualifications that he sought for any players.’ The scene was set for Harps tilt at the Junior Cup.
Junior Cup Campaign
Harps cup campaign nearly came to a premature end when they were beaten in the Donegal Division Final of the F.A.I. Junior Cup, played in Finn Park on 14 January 1968 by Buncrana Hearts. The report on the game described ‘The weather made good football impossible and both teams had to undergo an endurance test in a ceaseless downpour’. Buncrana emerged as the victors by a goal to nil. Charlie Ferry, who played in the junior cup side, clearly recalls how Harps were re-instated ‘Buncrana Hearts played both Seamus Doherty and James Nicholl in the game and they were both playing with Coleraine in the Irish League at the time. Harps protested at their inclusion and were awarded the game and allowed to progress in the competition.’
Harps then faced Bank United, from County Louth, in Dundalk the following month. The game finished in a 1-1 draw after extra-time. Bank started as the better team, but, Harps came into the game as it wore on. In the second half, Harps exerted a lot of pressure but were unable to get the vital score. Two minutes into extra-time, T. O’Connell scored from eighteen yards for the home side. Ten minutes later, Andy Hegarty equalised for Harps to set up a replay the following Sunday.
Team: P. McGowan, E. McAdams, F. McNulty, B. Jackson, D. McLaughlin, C. Quinn, T. McCallion, A. Hegarty, A. Wellburn, R. Kelly, L. McLaughlin
In the replay, none of the large attendance could visualise Harps winning in the manner that they did, destroying the County Louth side, by seven goals to one. The scoring began after nine minutes when J. Barclay scored for the home side. T. O’Connell hit the equaliser on the half-hour mark only to see goals from D. McLaughlin (35), A. Hegarty (60 and 68), A. Wellburn (63), J. Barclay (76) and T. McCallion (85) put Harps through to the next round.
The following month March, Harps travelled to play Shannon Rangers in the Showgrounds in Sligo. Once again the initial fixture ended in a draw, but, only after Harps had come back from three goals down at the interval. Sweeney scored twice for the home side and Bradley got a third, before Harps hit back with three goals in a spell from the 75th to 88th minutes. Right-Back Eddie McAdams scored twice and Alan Wellburn got the other goal. Twenty minutes of extra-time failed to separate the sides.
In the replay a week later, Harps made no mistake and, in a game played in pouring rain, dismissed the Sligo side by two goals to one. Liam McLaughlin gave Harps the lead after four minutes only to see W. Bradley equalise for Shannon ten minutes later. Centre-Forward A. Hegarty got the winning goal in the eightieth minute. Stars for Harps on the day (according to the Derry People Donegal News) were D. McLaughlin, R. Kelly, L. McLaughlin, J. Barclay, B. Jackson and A. Wellburn.
Harps then made history on 21 April, beating Valeview by two goals to nil, at Finn Park, to qualify for the last four of the competition. With the game scoreless at half-time, Barry Jackson opened the scoring with a penalty after sixty-three minutes. A. Hegarty clinched the semi-final spot scoring in the last minute. Of more significance in the game, Patsy McGowan was injured and brought on John Young as the replacement goalkeeper, a decision, which was to cause Valeview to appeal the result. Team: P. McGowan, E. Adams, F. McNulty, B. Jackson, D. McLaughlin, R. Kelly, J. Barclay, A. Wellburn, A. Hegarty, S. Hamilton, L. McLaughlin. Sub J. Young for McGowan.
John Young hadn’t been named on the referee’s card. As Richie Kelly points out ‘the result of the protest could only have happened in the F.A.I. The panel sitting ruled that Harps had to replay the game in Dublin and that was the end of it. We should have been thrown out, but they allowed us another chance.’ It would take three weeks before Harps would face the Dubliners again, this time at the Carlisle Grounds in Bray.
Harps won the re-fixed game by one goal to nil and qualified for the semi-finals. Ritchie Kelly recalls, at that stage of the competition, Harps were on a win bonus of £5 a man. ‘Billy Jackson went down injured during that game and was carried off the pitch. Yet he re-emerged at half-time and played out the second half of the game.’ The winning goal came after 25 minutes. A neat move by Stanley Hamilton and Liam McLaughlin sent Andy Hegarty away on the wing. He beat a number of defenders and from almost on the bye-line, he drove in a shot, that came off the underside of the crossbar. McLaughlin was following up and crashed the ball into the net.
Team: J. Young, E. McAdams, F. McNulty, R. Kelly, B. Jackson, S. Hamilton, T. McCallion, J. Barclay, A.Wellburn, A. Hegarty, L. McLaughlin
In the semi-final Harps played Dublin side Talbot United at Finn Park in May. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. Liam McLaughlin gave Harps the best start possible when he opened the scoring after two minutes, only to see Caulfield hit the equaliser after thirty-eight minutes. The game went to extra time. Barry put Talbot ahead before Ritchie Kelly hit a brilliant free-kick, to tie the game at two goals each, three minutes before the end.
Team: J. Young, E. McAdams, F. McNulty, B. Jackson, D. McLaughlin, R. Kelly, James Barclay, S. Hamilton, A. Wellburn, A. Hegarty, L. McLaughlin, Sub T. McCallion for Barclay.
Harps qualified for the final, on the first Sunday in June, thanks to a solitary goal win at Tolka Park. Centre forward Andy Hegarty scored the goal from twenty yards out in the twenty-ninth minute. According to the Derry People Donegal News match report ‘The Donegal side’s superior teamwork was the decisive factor. They played a fast open game whereas the Dublin side played it too close and seldom looked likely to pierce a compact Harps’ defence.’
Team: J. Young, E. McAdams, F. McNulty, B. Jackson, D. McLaughlin, R. Kelly, C. Ferry, T. McCallion, A. Hegarty, S. Hamilton, L. McLaughlin. Sub C. Quinn
For the final on 9 June, Harps travelled on the Saturday. They planned to stay over in Bray, until Monday, after the game. Harps drew one all with Telephones United in Tolka Park. Jimmy Barclay headed home the equaliser on forty nine minutes, after Boyce had given Telephones the lead in the twenty-fifth minute. Extra-time failed to separate the sides and it went to a replay.
Team: Young, McAdams, McNulty, Jackson, McLaughlin, Kelly, Barclay, Ferry, Hegarty, Hamilton, McLaughlin. Sub McCallion for Barclay.
The following week Harps again drew with the Dublin side, in Leckview Park, Letterkenny. The Donegal Democrat commented ‘Again this year the coveted FAI Junior Cup is proving the most elusive target in Irish Soccer. At Letterkenny on Sunday a 130 minute duel between Telephones United (Dublin) and Finn Harps (Ballybofey) failed to decide the destination of the cup.’
The replay was played before a crowd of 1,500. Charlie Ferry scored with a backheeler for Harps to equalise O’Connell’s earlier penalty. In extra-time, Keane put the Dubliners in the lead again, only for Ritchie Kelly to hit a brilliant free-kick and send the Final to a second replay.
Team: Young, McAdams, McNulty, Kelly, D. McLaughlin, Jackson, Barclay, C. Ferry, Hegarty, Hamilton, L. McLaughlin, Sub McCallion for Barclay.
The F.A.I. Junior Council fixed the second replay also for Letterkenny. This time Harps made no mistake. The first half was pretty much an even affair. In the second half, Harps scored four times without reply. The goalscorers were Liam McLaughlin, Billy Jackson, Andy Hegarty and Alan Wellburn. Captain, Ritchie Kelly was presented with the trophy, by Mr P. Hill the Vice-Chairman of the Junior Committee.
Team: John Young, Eddie McAdams, Fergus McNulty, Barry Jackson, Dessie McLaughlin, Ritchie Kelly, James Barclay, Stanley Hamilton, Andy Hegarty, Alan Wellburn, Liam McLaughlin and the substitute was Tony McCallion.