Player Watch: Ciaron Harkin

NIFL Premiership

Glentoran v Coleraine 23rd September 2017

Top of the table Coleraine’s visit to the Oval provided Player Watch with the opportunity to cast an eye over their young midfielder, Ciaron Harkin. A captain of Institute at twenty he signed for Coleraine in January 2017 and it is indeed clear he has a definite self-assurance for a twenty-one-year-old. A very athletically built lad he looks built for speed and in that respect wouldn’t look out of place on the wing. However, he was to spend most of the match dead centre, bang in front of his central defenders and rarely strayed from there.

There was certainly a very strong breeze coming down the Herdman channel which made composure and control of the ball a difficult challenge, but it definitely took a while for our subject to make his mark in the game. He misjudged several challenges and interceptions and was buffeted about a bit though still was able to make a nuisance of himself to the opposition. Apart from initial short stuff around him his first meaningful pass was a deep one down to the Glentoran right which even against the wind was too strong for his colleague. He was, however, starting to break up various Glentoran attacks and was thwarting Curtis Allen and John McGuigan in particular.

His positional discipline needed to be strong as Glentoran were playing without wide men, so much was central. His immediate task dealing with the movement of McGuigan was an exacting one, as his opponent has freedom to roam behind his own forwards of Allen and McDaid. Coleraine had a good opening twenty minutes and he increasingly found himself further forward as his team pushed Glentoran back and he had a shot charged down outside the Glentoran area.

His team had a man sent off on the twentieth minute and from then his forays forward were going to be limited. Coleraine adapted well to this as they have a forward in Bradley who is one of the best in the league in holding the ball up. McAuley and McGonigle also provided speed, width and a maintained, offensive and disciplined mindset. The sum of all this meant that Harkin’s game did not have to change too much, though it was noticeable sometimes how he had to move fast across the front of his area to put a few fires out. He went to ground perhaps a little too easily in his tackles but he has the speed and ability to be back on his feet very quickly. He also took a free – kick in the first half but it was a terrible waste meandering away for a goal kick.

He had a quiet opening period to the second but still was key to breaking up play. Glentoran had interestingly chosen not to put on a winger to stretch Coleraine and to this end they were able to maintain their shape and form. More importantly, this was not exhausting the Coleraine midfield. His big moment in the game was a testament to his speed and instinct. His team were able to break at one point and he was able to get on the end of a McGonigle pass. Deep into the Glentoran left flank at the edge of box his confidence and technical ability allowed him to shoot first time and he was unlucky to hit the post. The follow up came back to him but this effort was skied.

This wasn’t the first or last Coleraine effort as Bradley, McGonigle and Parkhill had decent efforts and this was in no small measure to Harkin’s ability to provide cover at the back. He has a good right foot and had a better free kick in the second – half as it curled away from the Glentoran defence. As fatigue did start to hit his team later on, he was instrumental in a tackle that was key to halting a Glentoran move.

It would have been interesting to perhaps have seen a fuller role from him if his team had played with eleven men. As mentioned he played a positionally disciplined role and it is unusual in my football watching to see inexperienced players do that, but he does appear to have a wise football head on those shoulders. It was a well-earned point for Coleraine in challenging circumstances against a team in form and he more than played his part in that.