Harkins back fit and feeling at home despite 400 mile trip for home game

Friday 15th February 2013

Elgin may be a 414 mile round trip from Paul Harkins’ base in Greenock however, it has provided a welcome home for the 24-year-old midfielder even if Manager Ross Jack enforces his threat of not letting left footed players take any more of his side’s penalties.

Paul HarkinsHarkins, younger brother of former Partick Thistle star Gary, who recently moved back to Dundee from Scottish Communities League Cup holders Kilmarnock, is delighted to be taking the long road to the Highlands after spending the best part of three years not playing football.  The former Queen’s Park player suffered a groin injury after completing a successful maiden season with the Spiders and despite a couple of attempts at comebacks, season 2011/12 was frustratingly spent without kicking a ball.

That has all changed as Harkins is establishing himself in a Black and White starting jersey and starred in last Saturday’s 3-1 win over Annan Athletic where his only blemish came from 12 yards out midway through the second half when the score was already 3-1.

Fellow left footed player Daniel Moore has missed two penalties already this season and that led Jack to playfully saying: “That is it, penalties will only be taken by big right foot toe-bashers now!”

Harkins' route to Borough Briggs began much closer to home as he explained: “I had been at my local club at Morton as a youngster and had trained with the first team squad at Stirling Albion however, I was not offered the chance to play in the first team for either of them.

“Stirling loaned me out to Neilston Juniors and I really enjoyed my season there.  To be honest, the time I spent with them helped me grow up a fair bit.”

Queen’s Park spotted Harkins playing there and when no deal was offered by the Forthbank side, Harkins was Hampden bound as he explained: “I joined Queen’s from Neilston as a 19-year-old and my first season at Hampden was great.

“I played in a lot of games and scored a few goals in the Second Division alongside players that are now in the SPL with Paul Cairney at Hibs and Barry Douglas at Dundee United.”

Paul Harkins (left) in action for Queen's Park v Celtic (Scottish Cup)There were some memorable games in that first season with Harkins saying: “I played at Parkhead against Celtic in a Scottish Cup tie that we did really well in before losing 2-1.  But in the League, we finished in second bottom place and had to go into a Play-Off Semi-Final against Stenhousemuir.

“We went two down in about half an hour at Ochilview but I pulled a goal back although we lost 2-1.  The second leg was goalless and we were relegated which was really disappointing.”

Further disappointment lay ahead with the next season being almost a total right off for Harkins as he managed only one game in The ALBA Challenge Cup, The Co-operative Insurance Cup and the IRN-BRU SFL Third Division before having to concede defeat to a groin injury.

“I had a sore groin in pre-season and thought that it would go away but it didn’t for the best part of three years,” said Harkins before adding, “I had one operation whilst at Queen’s and I came back for a few games in season 2010/11 and scored in a game against Stranraer but it still wasn’t right.”

Harkins continued: “I did not play from February, 2011 to the summer of 2012 and had a second operation during that time and thankfully, that one sorted me out.  Throughout that time, I always wanted to get fit and get back and of course, get someone to sign me.”

Gary HarkinsElder brother Gary’s Partick Thistle relationship with his former Firhill team-mate Mark Roberts saw Harkins undertake a full pre-season training programme last summer at Ayr United.  Whilst no deal was agreed with the Honest Men, the work that Harkins put in allowed him to show that he was ready to return.

That return came as a substitute in mid-August when Elgin defeated Stirling Albion 3-1 although Harkins was not overjoyed as he explained: “I went up to Elgin on a three game trial basis and to be honest, I was not sure that I played well enough to get a deal.  In my first few games, I was miles off the pace but the gaffer was good with me.

“After the trial period, I agreed to join as an amateur but I have recently been offered and agreed to sign an 18 month contract as a professional with Elgin.”

Harkins explained how the long distance relationship works saying: “I train with our defender Sean Crichton who lives nearby but we are part of the group of six players that goes up for home games from the west of Scotland.

“Sean and I are at the start and end of the journey as we pick the rest of the boys up in Glasgow.  So far, everything has worked out fine for us and we are back home about half past nine on a Saturday night after a game at Borough Briggs.”

Sean Crighton in action for Elgin CityTraining had been Harkins’ only activity for almost the whole month of January after a red card at Ibrox in Elgin’s 1-1 draw resulted in suspension with the 24-year-old saying: “Sean and I do our own training routine and that has kept me going.  My two match ban for getting sent off against Rangers ended up being a five week ban due to postponements.”

Having got fit again and finding a club to play with, Harkins has more boxes to tick.

“My personal objective is just to play as much as I can and score as many goals as I can,” said Harkins before adding, “So far, I only have the two which are the one against East Fife in the Scottish Cup and the one against Annan last Saturday.

“For the team, the objectives have got to be the Play-Offs and we will give it a real go in getting there.  There are a lot of good players at Elgin and bizarrely, I think we are bonded tighter together because we do not see each other two or three times a week.

“We only see each other on match days and are therefore determined to make the most of it.”

It is Links Park this Saturday for Elgin and Harkins knows that they are in for a tough game as he explained: “We have Montrose this weekend that have been flying recently and they will be looking to bounce back after last weekend’s defeat from Stirling Albion.

John Gibson in action for Montrose“We are level on points with them so a win would open up a gap which would be great as we have a couple of games in hand to play as well.  If we can beat them, we can hopefully use the games in hand to kick on and create a bigger advantage.”

Harkins has a special incentive to get on the score-sheet at Links Park as he explained: “Big John Gibson is in goal for Montrose now after spending the first part of the season with us and I have told him already that I am going to score past him.”

And if the chance to score comes from the penalty spot, Harkins said: “I will be telling the boss to re-think his strategy of not letting left footed players take the penalties.  I am enjoying being back and I will definitely be hitting another penalty.  If he doesn’t agree, I will offer to take one with my right foot!”

IRN-BRU SFL

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