Dream debuts

Ryan O’Toole

It was fairy-tale stuff from O’Toole. He ignored all his natural instincts that screamed to fist the ball over the bar. Instead, the Scotstown clubman fired the ball low and hard, between the legs of Tyrone ’keeper Niall Morgan, to secure a famous win for Vinny Corey’s men and see them through to the last four of the Ulster Championship. O’Toole scored a similar goal against Mayo in the last round of the league, but the stakes were much higher this time around as it was in the dying seconds of the match. Monaghan will now hope to compete for the Anglo Celt and if they get that far, they’ll have O’Toole’s goal to thank.

Ethan Rafferty

While he’s better known now as a marauding goalkeeper, Rafferty started his career outfield and while he’ll be protecting the goals in Breffni Park this weekend, he was rattling them on his debut ten years ago. The Orchard County were struggling that day and trailed 1-9 to 0-5 at the half-time break. Rafferty entered the fray after just 21 minutes, replacing Finnian Moriarty, and raised a green flag during the second half to drag Armagh back into the game. That goal narrowed the gap to just one point, but Armagh’s fightback didn’t pay off as they lost 1-15 to 1-11.

Darragh Canavan

It proved to be Mickey Harte’s last game in charge of Tyrone and the three-time All-Ireland winner showed faith in Darragh Canavan and fired him into the action as the Red Hands battled with Donegal in Ballybofey. Canavan, son of Tyrone legend Peter Canavan, was well marshalled by Stephen McMenamin in the first half as Donegal carried a two-point lead into the half-time break. The Errigal Ciaran man hit a superb score after the turnaround before pouncing on a mistake in the Donegal defence and with a slight jink, slipped the ball passed Sean Patton and into the net. It wasn’t enough however, as Tyrone lost by two in the end.

Karl O’Connell

As he showed on Sunday in Omagh, O’Connell still has that same burst of pace that he had when he was first breaking into the team. Now one of the older, more experienced heads in the panel, O’Connell was once the new kid on the block. His championship debut, in 2012, was just 35 seconds old when the Tyholland man burst through the Antrim defence and palmed home the first score of the game. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Farney men however, as the Saffron’s gave them a real scare. But Monaghan’s class eventually saw them over the line and O’Connell’s goal was the difference at full time, 1-12 to 1-9.

Pat Havern

Havern’s Down debut was a rollercoaster ride to say the least. They welcomed Armagh to Newry in the opening round of the 2019 Ulster Championship and Down had upset the odds in the same fixture two years previous, but Armagh were still the pre-match favourites. Havern’s first-half goal handed the Mourne men the lead at the break, 1-5 to 0-7, but Armagh stormed into a five-point advantage in the second half. In a crazy second period, it eventually ended all square and the sides were forced to play an extra 20 minutes to decide the outcome. Armagh, led by Rian O’Neill, sneaked through in the end by the minimum of margins.

Aidan Forker

For the last number of years, Aidan Forker as been the man trusted with containing the impact of the opposition’s best players having man-marked the likes of Michael Murphy and Darren McCurry in recent years. But when he first came on the scene in the orange and white, the Maghery man lined out in the half-forward line and wore the number 12 jersey in his championship debut against Tyrone in 2012. Forker rattled the net in the Athletic Grounds as Armagh put it up to Mickey Harte’s team, but it wasn’t enough for the Orchard to get something from the game as the visitors got one over their rivals, winning by three points.

Patrick McCormick

McCormick was thrown in at the deep end and didn’t have much time to find his feet at championship level when Antrim faced Tyrone in the first round of the 2019 Ulster Championship. Tyrone were dominant throughout and won by 14 points, but McCormick came away with a debut goal. The game was more or less decided by the halfway stage, with the Red Hands ahead 1-16 to 0-5, but Antrim rallied in the second half with goals from McCormick and Matthew Fitzpatrick helping to put some gloss on the scoreline.

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