Twenty years ago today, on August 15 1998, Finn Harps manager Charlie McGeever sent on a 17-year-old Kevin McHugh in a League Cup game against Fanad United at Traigh-A-Loch.
The Killea youngster was sent on for Donal O’Brien – and didn’t take long to make a mark.
Two minutes into his debut he won the penalty from which John Gerard McGettigan scored the opening goal. “I wasn’t brave enough to grab the ball off John Gerard,” McHugh said of the incident.
Eight minutes from the end, Jonathan Speak squared across goal and McHugh applied the finish for a 2-0 win – it was the first of the 186 he scored for Harps in 438 appearances during two spells at the club.
McHugh consistently made the difference for Harps in his two spells at the club and it’s hard to pick his finest moment – but here’s a selection:
When Premier Division Shelbourne came to Finn Park for an FAI Cup clash in 2001 against First Division Harps, McHugh helped cause the upset with this cracker in a 2-1 win
The following season, Harps reached the play-offs and although they lost heartbreakingly on penalties to Longford Town, McHugh’s hat-trick that night remains one of his standouts.
When you mention McHugh’s goals to any Harps fan, foremost in their minds was that fateful night in December 2003 when he scored a stunning late equaliser against Derry City in the play-off.
While Derry won in extra-time, McHugh’s goal let Harps fans – many of whom were outside the ground when he scored – dream. And there was that famous celebration, too!
In 2004, Felix Healy’s Harps won the First Division title. Before a packed Finn Park, Harps, defeated Dundalk 3-0 to clinch the title and McHugh scored twice.
When Harps came up against Drogheda United in the FAI Cup quarter-final in 2013, this stunner from McHugh put Harps in front, but Drogheda equalised and won the subsequent replay.
In 2014, Harps defeated Avondale United to reach the FAI Cup semi-finals – and again McHugh was on the mark with this penalty.
See some of McHugh’s other highlights in this compilation put together by Harps fan James Byrne, which includes a 2002 piece on the striker by RTE and interviews with Jonathan Speak, the former Harps player and manager, and Richie Kelly from Killea FC, where McHugh learned the trade.