Ian Harkin on the Model Being Implemented at Harps

2023 has seen a lot of changes at Harps, change is challenging and not everyone likes it, a lot of that sometimes is down to communication and below I’ve attempted to explain the reasons why we have made changes.

This year, we as a board chose to cut our combined budget for playing and management staff in half from what we were spending in 2022 due to the following reasons:

  • No further covid supports, last year and previous years we received supports relating to monies spent in 2021, that will not be here in 2023
  • Gate receipts plummeted last year from our forecasted amounts due to performance on the field, we cannot afford to put the club at risk with high wages for experienced players
  • Dropping a division and historically lower gate receipts and commercial revenue
  • Almost doubling of costs relating to housing, fuel and normal transport costs
  • Extra travel costs due to the location of teams in the first division, our costs have doubled in comparison in 2022
  • We have obligations with our stadium, putting our club in financial risk at present would put our whole project at risk so for the next few years we need to be prudent with operational costs, we also need to add administrative office and staff to deliver the requirements of a club that has been growing in size by over 20% per annum.
  • Last year we were flying players in, putting them up in hotels etc, there was excess in costs, that is not who we are. We are developing rules around contracts, salaries etc so practices like this does not happen again. We signed up to it, it was our call, but on reflection it has proven to be then wrong path.

No matter who our manager would have been they would have had to work within the confines of our budget. Several prospective candidates removed their application when they learned of the budget constraints. As a board our preference was to work with fulltime management for the following reasons:

  • Training will be upped from 3 times per week to 6 times per week. We want to create an environment similar to what players will experience at the top clubs so that they have every opportunity to succeed. We want players to remain in Ireland and develop here in a professional environment, player welfare is extremely important, education, longer contracts, professional environment and equipment all whilst living in Donegal.
  • Professional training is prerequisite to be able to bring in 4 players on loan for no or minimal cost, this is not possible in a part time environment.
  • Players need support, management will be available to them at any time throughout the week.
  • In the past 8 years we have provided the lowest amount of minutes to players under 21, if players from the Northwest are not getting senior game time here it is extremely difficult to get it anywhere. There has been a major disconnect between the academy and the senior team due to no visible pathway. We have to address this.
  • Previously we as a board agreed to a policy whereby survival in the premiership was the key objective each year. To accomplish this we brought in experienced players, this limited the chances of our own players. Having been relegated it was time to change our strategy and invest in the development of our youth.

By choosing a fulltime management team it meant that the first team budget is now significantly less than what we paid last year. The outcome of that decision is that you simply cannot afford players with lots of games under their belt you have to focus on development. Our plan is to work with younger talent, put them on longer contracts so that once developed we can push on or potentially realise a return on our investment, at the end of this year we will have the bulk of our 2024 squad in place, under contract and all players will have played together for a year and trained 6 times a week. This year we started with 1 player under contract, almost every other club in both leagues will have retained at least 50% of their squad, we have started with 1 experienced player and 2 others who have played a combined 3- or 4-hours senior football. We have recruited a spine within our team that has played at a senior level but 50% of our starting 11 this past two weeks and almost the entire bench has had little to no senior football experience. What we lack in experience we have bucketful of potential, enthusiasm and an incredible appetite to learn. They will make mistakes and you have to encourage players to take chances, you learn from mistakes, you also learn from winning and I’ve no doubt this team will start to win. 64% of our players came from outside the northwest last year, this year 64% of our squad comes from the Northwest. Nobody on our senior team is living outside the Northwest this season the vast majority are attending EVERY training session.

Cutting of the budget, the appointment of fulltime management and the impact that has is forcing the club to focus on youth, that is the board’s decision, if people are unhappy about that then vent your anger at the board. The lads on the field are representing our region, support them, they are our neighbours, our family and friends. By all accounts if the effort isn’t there let them know but that I guarantee from what I’ve seen that won’t be the case. Buy a share and put your name forward for the board if you really care to volunteer and make a change. Due to the change in year-end implemented by the licencing system we will be looking to hold our next AGM in June/July of this year where we will present the accounts up to the 31st of December 2022. It is a credit to all volunteers that we got through 2022, paid all bills and kept our head above water. We cannot let ourselves take undue risk again, our focus on season tickets and our 500 Club provides us with stability and the ability to forecast with a degree of certainty, if you can please join/support our 500 club.