On a rainy Tuesday afternoon in Donegal, a teacher was technically back at work in a classroom.
The explanation is straightforward in a Finn Harps kind of way, which means there's an element of improvisation.
This goes with the territory for a club that is largely recognised as the smallest trader in the League of Ireland Premier Division market.
Covid-19 has once again tested the resourcefulness of a volunteer-run outfit with a squad that is a mix of full-time, part-time and amateur players, a quirky operation when you consider they are frequently trying to compete with fully professional opponents. Somehow, they always tend to find a way.
And so, the teacher in this case is their manager, Ollie Horgan, who normally juggles his sporting commitments with his job as a secondary school teacher in Letterkenny's St Eunan's College.
The classroom is a portakabin which, until recently, was a learning base for primary school students in nearby Ardara. Tuesday marked its formal transition into a dressing-room and video analysis area for a top-flight football club.
Two-and-a-half hours before kick-off in their Premier Division game with Shelbourne, a 5.45pm Tuesday kick-off that is a product of the sheer abnormality of the crowd-free and streaming-driven resumption, Horgan is concentrated on a laptop hooked up to a screen as club directors Ivan Harvey and Trevor Gordon bring the Irish Independent on a tour of the new facilities that allowed the worst venue in the division to meet Covid requirements.
Back in the deep uncertainty of May, when the PFAI canvassed their members on whether they felt safe to return to play and 87 per cent said yes, a concern flagged was the prospect of going to places like Finn Park.
It's a charge that could wind up those inclined to sensitivity, but then it could also be argued that the road to progress may be dependent on emphasising the inadequacies.
This crisis has exposed flaws and Harps is an extreme example of that. Their Ballybofey base is creaking, and social distancing is the least of its problems.
Gaps are visible in the roof of the so-called main stand in a ground that requires a derogation from the authorities because it doesn't meet seating requirements.
The fabulous track at the adjacent Finn Valley AC. Photo: Sportsfile
The gantry that housed the WatchLOI team for the game with Shels filled up with puddles during the broadcast because of leakage. Locals tell the story of a game last year where four extension leads had to function as a chain to be plugged into the press box so the chip van could be operational after it lost power.
During the match, former Harps favourite Declan Boyle, there in his capacity as a co-commentator with Highland Radio, looks out to the modest surrounds and simply says "nothing has changed" since he retired in 2009.
He's basically correct, save for the cabins that were the product of a fundraising campaign set up because of the fear that Harps would have to play elsewhere for the rest of 2020.
The club doesn't have a massive fanbase, so they had to work hard to raise awareness and drive home the importance. "Have you donated yet?" asks Harvey, the event controller turned crisis management leader, with a grin.
Rivals Sligo Rovers had the reach to pull together an incredible €80,000 from an appeal for support in a short space of time and other clubs have noted that it allowed Liam Buckley to strengthen his squad.
Harps set a target of €35,000 on May 27 and it is finally within touching distance but every penny counts. Earlier this year, they had relaunched a membership scheme to allow Horgan recruit a better class of player in an attempt to move away from yo-yo club status.
The GoFundMe had a more urgent focus, with wheeling and dealing skills necessary to secure the most cost-effective solutions. It was a sprint finish to get everything ready for the opening fixture. All hands on deck. Stripping. Installing. Painting.
"We had to kick a**e," says Harvey, and he means it. There's a tale behind each of the cabins; it's not just the expanded home dressing-room (which has allowed the away team and officials to take over the cramped area that used to miraculously host two squads) but there's also a new kitchen cabin and facilities for support staff. It doesn't look like much from the outside but it's a dramatic upgrade.
Harps had received a quote of €14,000 for a retired classroom cabin in Louth, before learning that the school in Ardara had completed an extension making the cabin surplus to requirements.
The main expense was €6,000 for the transportation by a local company. Other cabins were purchased from the Donegal GAA centre in Convoy, an insight into the sporting hierarchy of the county. When the attempt to transport one cabin into the ground was held up by the tight confines of the entrance, it created a logjam on the streets outside that made local news headlines.
There's slight discomfort that the slapstick element plants a perception, yet the overall episode, and the fact that Harps have managed to make the best of a bad situation by actually improving the day-to-day environment for their squad, is a triumph of spirit. They got it done, no matter what it took.
"We don't have the moneybags, we don't have any owners writing cheques for us," asserts Gordon, a civil engineer by trade. Harvey notes that Shamrock Rovers supporters were substantial contributors to the GoFundMe page. There's a good relationship there.
"We have a history of giving each other money when we go broke," laughs Gordon.
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Behind the gallows humour, however, there is a regret that Harps are stuck in this cycle. In the first game after the shutdown, they were thrashed at Tallaght Stadium, a modern venue that functions as a community facility with the League of Ireland club as the anchor tenant.
That is the aspiration for the new home for Finn Harps, a story that has become such a saga that is often a punchline. The site is less than a kilometre away in Stranorlar and Gordon is happy to provide what could be described as a tour but it's more of a viewing of a half-built weather-beaten stand, surrounded by muddy or overgrown grass on a spacious site that does scream potential even if it has a depressing feel on this gloomy day.
Paul McLoone, the former chief executive of North-West Tourism, joined the Harps board in 2017 in an attempt to revive the stadium dream that was granted planning permission in 2007 with the sod-turning taking place a year later. He is able to provide a comprehensive state of play, that €800,000 of public funds was used to build the frame and structure of the main stand before the project came to a halt in 2011 at the height of the recession. "The site has laid idle since," he says.
There are layers to the tale, with the dysfunction of the various actors playing their part, but momentum was generated by Harps with the new energy on the board and a meeting with the Department of Sport in 2018 leading to the approval of €304,000 to complete the plans and bill of quantities for Phase 1.
Further state funding is being sought to finish all aspects of that phase, including the main stand, the pitches, floodlights, car parking and all that goes with it, and Harps were expecting the Donegal Community Stadium to be included in the Large Scale Infrastructure Fund sporting announcements that were made in January.
There was dismay when the 'shovel ready' project was excluded, having apparently failed to meet criteria, although the Department of Sport subsequently informed Harps they wouldn't have to wait for the next round of applications and remained in the mix for support. The episode caused a local stir in Donegal with Harps calling on councillors and TD to belatedly fight their case, with the overlooking of Harps cast in the same light as a broader exclusion of the region.
Harps are optimistic yet the impact of the pandemic has raised fears about the purse. The original project has changed focus, and the incongruous positioning of the derelict site next to the impressive Finn Valley Club, the baby of former Irish athletics team manager Patsy McGonagle, is viewed as a positive by McLoone.
Harps players leaving their Portakabin dressing room during Tuesday’s game against Shelbourne in Finn Park, Ballybofey. Photo: Sportsfile
"The Finn Valley centre with swimming pool, running track, pitches and gymnasium is adjacent to the proposed new stadium and fits ideally in the overall plan to develop a sports hub for the catchment areas," he says. "The concept is that this would be a municipal facility which is very common on the continent and beyond."
Remember, Tallaght lay dormant for years before it was reborn.
If the Government can come up with the goods to finish the first phase, Harps and the local council are in consultation about sourcing the funds to deliver a second stand and two terraces to finally give the club a fit-for-purpose base as a focal point for the game in a county which - as McLoone points out - has delivered Packie Bonner, Shay Given and Seamus Coleman.
"The number of volunteers involved in soccer at all levels is enormous and it is only right and proper that they should have a facility to be proud of within their own county," he says.
Talks with the department are ongoing but many are in the 'believe it when they see it' camp. Harps supporters were previously told that concrete in the existing structure is wearing and the longer the delay, the more plausible it becomes that they may have to knock it and start again.
Over the stormy winter, a crane that was present on the location toppled over. A wag at a Harps meeting joked that it was about time there was some movement. There's a tragicomic aspect to it all, but a Premier club persisting with third-world conditions is wrapped up with Irish football's neglect.
In a turbulent week for the FAI, the name of Gary Owens was mentioned in a positive context by Harps official because of his willingness to consistently highlight the importance of stadium improvements. In this context, the FAI civil war around state funding risks collateral damage. Harps could do with catching a break.
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Tuesday was not a happy day. Gordon reckons they are the only top-flight side with fewer than 500 season ticket holders, so the Government's decision to stick with the 200 limit for games is a financial blow.
This news compounded the misery of an abject performance against Shels. Despite having an extra man for 80 minutes, they huffed and puffed in a 1-0 defeat. In a curtailed season, every game matters.
Ollie Hogan: We needed this changing facility years ago – we’d love to be in the Premier Division next year to be able use it.. Photo: Sportsfile
For the event planners, there was satisfaction that they had met the eight-day deadline to get all of the new units in.
The only essential wing that wasn't completed was the shower unit, which was no harm given that the FAI protocols ban post-match showers due to Covid transmission fears. That's not ideal for long trips to and from the north west. Victorious Shelbourne manager Ian Morris joked that they had heavily invested in baby wipes.
Horgan was frustrated after the match. Injuries have taken their toll, and four games in nine days are a grind. Harps have Dublin-based Dave Webster and Connacht residents Ryan Connolly and Raf Cretaro in their squad so congestion asks a lot of their arrangements.
Still, at least they can now space out in the dressing-room and go somewhere in the ground to get food before the commute home. The clearing of the space from the other side of the ground has allowed for the provision of a proper doctor's room. This illustrates how low the bar was set before the pandemic.
"The new members of the board have driven this on," said Horgan, "And it's not before time. It's brilliant. It shows the goodwill that's there and we're just disappointed that some of the people who donated weren't able to get in to watch us. We needed this changing facility years ago. We'd love to be in the Premier Division next year to be able to use it."
Harps were on the road again last night, taking on St Patrick's Athletic in Dublin. Ironically enough, they had their pre-match meal in the Red Cow Hotel as the FAI circus played itself out. Ivan and his team could take a breath last week, but the Saints are in Ballybofey for a cup tie on Monday so there's always a to-do list. On and off the pitch, the struggle will continue.