Paddy McCourt penalty gives Finn Harps slender playoff advantage against Limerick
Finn Harps 1 Limerick 0
Paddy McCourt's penalty gave First Division Finn Harps the edge in the first leg of a tense promotion-relegation play-off first leg in Ballybofey.
McCourt hit the only goal of the game as Harps take a priceless win into Friday's return leg.
McCourt is hanging up his boots at the end of the season to take up a new role as Head of Academy at Derry City.
The former Celtic winger stepped up to convert a 36th minute penalty after Jesse Devers had his heels clipped by Killian Brouder. McCourt cooly stroked the ball past Tommy Holland to delight the majority of the 2,379 in attendance.
Eight minutes into the second half, Nathan Boyle drew a good save from Holland as Harps set about doubling their lead.
Limerick were dealt a blow 19 minutes from the end when goalkeeper Holland was carried off on a stretcher.
It meant both sides were down their first choice 'keepers.
Harps were without Ciaran Gallagher, whose season has been ended by a knee ligament injury. The absence of Gallagher, with 14 clean sheets behind him during Harps’ surge for promotion, left Harps without one of their most experienced men.
Mark Timlin failed a late fitness test and a suspension kept Mark Coyle out.
The injury list certainly rocked Harps and Conor Ellis almost turned an early screw on the home side. After beating Peter Burke - Gallagher’s replacement in goal - in a race for possession, Ellis shot against the post.
Moments earlier, an effort by Limerick skipper Shane Duggan rose just too much, but it was a clear indication of intent from the Shannonsiders - who had just three wins in their last 13 League games.
Devers forced Holland into a save before McCourt put the home side in front and they held on in spite of strong pressure.
This was a repeat of the 2015 play-off between these sides, when BJ Banda netted a late winner in extra time to send Harps into the top flight.
Limerick launched a late bid to draw level and Barry Maguire’s header was cleared off the line by Gareth Harkin.
Burke saved wonderfully from Maguire to preserve the advantage, but this one remains on a knife edge.
Harps - Burke; Borg, Cowan, Todd; Kavanagh, Devers (Logue 89), McCourt (Sobowale 77), Harkin, Coll; Place, Boyle (O'Flynn 97).
Limerick - Holland (Brady 71); Kelly, Cantwell, Brouder, Tracy; Duggan, Coleman, Dennehy, O’Sullivan (W Fitzgerald 54); Ellis (Morrissey 79); Maguire. Ref - R Harvey.