Paul O’Neill’s late leveller in last night’s 2-2 draw with Coleraine at The Showgrounds saw the 21-year-old striker enter the exclusive club of players who have scored on their Cliftonville debut.
O’Neill, who joined from Glentoran in the closing hours of the January Transfer Window, was in the right place at the right time to find the net after some alert wing wizardry from Daire O’Connor – and joins Cavin McCurry as the only members of the current squad to have got on the scoresheet on their first appearance for the Reds.
The Club’s Heritage Development Officer, Paul Treanor, notes that of the last 30 players to have done so, Vincent Gilmore was the first when he bagged a goal in an Irish League encounter with Glentoran in 1951.
A further 23 years would pass until Eamonn Largey (above) became the next Cliftonville player to savour a debut strike when he was on target in an Ulster Cup clash with Ards at Castlereagh Park in September 1974, but the subsequent wait was nowhere near as long thanks to John Reaney netting against Bangor less than three months later.
The following season, Dave Birch scored in a game with Portadown, with Ronnie McAteer (below, grounded) next on the list when the Reds faced Glenavon in January of 1980.
Ron McCreery found the net against Distillery five years later and, 13 months on, Ian Todd did the job in an Irish League tie with Glentoran, but it was perhaps Cliftonville’s next goalscoring debutant who carries he greatest story of all – goalkeeper Andy McClean’s long kick upfield earning a 3-2 win over Linfield at Windsor Park, sparking scenes of stunned jubliation among the Red Army (below).
A Budweiser Cup battle with Newry Town in February 1989 saw Gerry Corrigan add his name to the list, which soon boasted representation from Stanley Weir (v Coleraine, 1990) and Gary Clarke (v Newry, 1991).
In 1993, no fewer than four Reds players found the net on their maiden outings for the Club.
Gerry Flynn (who can be seen celebrating McClean’s goal at the bottom of the image above; striped top, arms raised) became the latest debutant to strike against Newry and, just 11 days later, Paul Darby was on target in an Irish Cup joust with Queen’s University.
A month on, Darren Wilson scored against Omagh Town at Solitude ahead of Fran Hitchcock converting when Cliftonville hosted Ards in a Gold Cup fixture in August.
October 1994 saw Stevie Cowan – most notable for his heroics in a Portadown shirt – mark his Reds bow with a finish, inevitably, against Newry before Keith Alexander (above) helped his loan side to a never-to-be-forgotten 4-3 win against the Ports at Shamrock Park the following year.
Ciaran Feehan registed a hat-trick when he made his first appearance in a League Cup encounter with Limavady United in August 1995, while Paul Stokes found the net in a Premier League trip to Bangor on New Year’s Day in 1996.
Though his time at Cliftonville is best remembered for his contribution between 2005 and 2009, what is perhaps often forgotten is that striker Gary Kennedy enjoyed one outing during the Club’s 1997/98 title-winning campaign and found the net in a vital home win over Coleraine at 17 years of age.
In 2000, both Aidan O’Kane (v Ballymena United) and Sean Adams (v Crusaders) were among the goals, with Chris McVarnock on the scoresheet in a County Antrim Shield battle with Carrick Rangers in October 2002.
In 2005, Barry Cunning netted in a Premier League meeting with Lisburn Distillery at New Grosvenor while, two years later, Kieran O’Connor (above) became the only Reds player in history to have enjoyed a goalscoring debut on the European scene when he bagged the equaliser in an InterToto Cup date with FC Dinaburg at Windsor Park.
Martin Jones scored against PSNI in a County Antrim Shield match in August 2009 and, in February 2011, Tony Kane celebrated an acrobatic finish against Newry City at The Showgrounds.
In the decade between now and then, however, only three players have toasted first game strikes – and two are members of Paddy McLaughlin’s current squad.
Gary Donnelly was on target in the Club Record 11-1 defeat of Lisburn Distillery in August 2016, while September 2019 saw Calvin McCurry score the quickest ever goal of a Cliftonville debutant when, just seconds after emerging from the bench against Knockbreda, his first touch took him around the goalkeeper and his second put the ball in the net.
Though Paul O’Neill (above) took a little bit longer than that to score against Coleraine last night, his name has now been added to an illustrious mixture of famous faces, former favourites and long-forgotten goal-getters.
Last 30 Debut Goalscorers
v Glentoran (January 31, 1951)
v Ards (September 28, 1974)
v Bangor (December 7, 1974)
v Portadown (September 13, 1975)
v Glenavon (January 19, 1980)
v Distillery (August 17, 1985)
v Glentoran (September 13, 1986)
v Linfield (August 20, 1988)
v Newry Town (February 21, 1989)
v Coleraine (April 13, 1990)
v Newry Town (December 14, 1991)
v Newry Town (January 16, 1993)
v Queen’s University (January 27, 1993)
v Omagh Town (February 27, 1993)
v Ards (August 27, 1993)
v Newry Town (October 22, 1994)
v Portadown (January 14, 1995)
v Limavady United (August 12, 1995)
v Bangor (January 1, 1996)
v Coleraine (January 4, 1997)
v Ballymena United (August 12, 2000)
v Crusaders (October 28, 2001)
v Carrick Rangers (October 29, 2002)
v Lisburn Distillery (January 3, 2005)
v FC Dinaburg (June 23, 2007)
v PSNI (August 11, 2009)
v Newry City (February 12, 2011)
v Lisburn Distillery (August 30, 2016)
v Knockbreda (September 10, 2019)
v Coleraine (February 2, 2021)