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Sean the mark

Sean Stewart’s goal in Saturday’s Sports Direct Premiership victory over Glenavon saw the 20-year-old enter the exclusive club of players who have scored on their Cliftonville debut.

The Norwich City loanee was perfectly placed to touch home from a yard out after seeing fellow newcomer Ben Wilson’s strike – which Stewart had himself presented the pass for – repelled by Lurgan Blues goalkeeper Rory Brown midway through the first-half of the Reds’ 3-0 success.

The Club’s Heritage Development Officer, Paul Treanor, notes that of the last 30 players to have scored on their debut, Dave Birch was the first when he bagged a goal against Portadown back in September 1975.

Ronnie McAteer (below, grounded) was next on the list when the Reds faced Glenavon in January of 1980, and Ron McCreery found the net against Distillery five years later while, 13 months on, Ian Todd did the job in an Irish League tie with Glentoran,

It is, however, Cliftonville’s next goalscoring debutant who perhaps 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 registered 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 first Reds player in history to enjoy 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-plus between now and then, however, only five players have toasted first game strikes – and two are members of Jim Magilton’s current squad.

Gary Donnelly was on target in the Club Record 11-1 defeat of 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.

Paul O’Neill hit an injury-time leveller against Coleraine in February 2021 and Conor Scannell registered a double in a County Antrim Shield defeat of Knockbreda seven months later.

Ronan Hale (above) wasted little time getting started with an unorthodox finish in a Europa Conference League joust with DAC in Slovakia ahead of Stewart this weekend adding his name to an illustrious mixture of famous faces, former favourites and long-forgotten goal-getters – joining Feehan (1995) and O’Kane (2000) in having done so on August 12.

Last 30 Debut Goalscorers
Dave Birch
v Portadown (September 13, 1975)

Ronnie McAteer
v Glenavon (January 19, 1980)

Ron McCreery
v Distillery (August 17, 1985)

Ian Todd
v Glentoran (September 13, 1986)

Andy McClean
v Linfield (August 20, 1988)

Gerry Corrigan
v Newry Town (February 21, 1989)

Stanley Weir
v Coleraine (April 13, 1990)

Gary Clarke
v Newry Town (December 14, 1991)

Gerry Flynn
v Newry Town (January 16, 1993)

Paul Darby
v Queen’s University (January 27, 1993)

Darren Wilson
v Omagh Town (February 27, 1993)

Fran Hitchcock
v Ards (August 27, 1993)

Stevie Cowan
v Newry Town (October 22, 1994)

Keith Alexander
v Portadown (January 14, 1995)

Ciaran Feehan
v Limavady United (August 12, 1995)

Paul Stokes
v Bangor (January 1, 1996)

Gary Kennedy
v Coleraine (January 4, 1997)

Aidan O’Kane
v Ballymena United (August 12, 2000)

Sean Adams
v Crusaders (October 28, 2001)

Chris McVarnock
v Carrick Rangers (October 29, 2002)

Barry Cunning
v Lisburn Distillery (January 3, 2005)

Kieran O’Connor
v FC Dinaburg (June 23, 2007)

Martin Jones
v PSNI (August 11, 2009)

Tony Kane
v Newry City (February 12, 2011)

Gary Donnelly
v Lisburn Distillery (August 30, 2016)

Calvin McCurry
v Knockbreda (September 10, 2019)

Paul O’Neill
v Coleraine (February 2, 2021)

Conor Scannell
v Knockbreda (September 21, 2021)

Ronan Hale
v DAC (July 7, 2022)

Sean Stewart
v Glenavon (August 12, 2023)