BY CHRIS MCNULTY
THERE were times when all of this seemed but a distant dream for Sean McCarron.
Time was when the last-minute equalisers, the goals, the rush of adrenaline and the buzz were a long way off.
The 21-year old Derryman has had quite the journey.
Confirmation that the corner has been turned and he’s on the right side of the dark days came last Friday night in Waterford when an 89th minute equaliser rescued a precious point for Finn Harps at the home of the promotion favourites, Waterford United.
McCarron latched onto a long ball from Damian McNulty that, via a clever dummy from Marc Brolly, found its way into his path. With an instinctive pull of the left foot, he buried a shot under Craig Hyland, the Waterford goalkeeper.
The buzz was back – and boy did he enjoy it.
What a difference a year can make.
In March 2012, Sean McCarron was then ordered to 180 hours of community service for assaulting a man in a taxi queue in February 2011. Six weeks ago, he was back in the dock having failed to comply with that order.
The District Judge, Barney McElholm, revoked the order and suspended a three-month jail term for 18 months, after McCarron’s solicitor, Paddy MacDermott had handed him a letter confirming that he’d signed an 18-month contract with Finn Harps.
Judge McElholm decreed that, since McCarron had a ‘promising future ahead of him’, he would suspend the sentence he’d intended to impose after receiving the latter from someone he said was ‘respected by the court’
“Those days are behind me now, I just want to get on with my football now and ‘Pizza’ (Peter Hutton, the Finn Harps manager) has given me a real chance to turn things around so it’s sort of like I owe it to him,” says McCarron.
“‘Pizza’ is a legend. It’s always good to see your hometown team do well and I’d always have gone and watched Derry City.
“‘Pizza’ never let Derry down, he was always a great player.
“I spoke to him a few times about Harps and he asked me to come down to training to see what it was all about and to see what he was doing. I’d nearly signed before so I knew him well enough – I couldn’t wait to get going at Harps to be honest.”
Last Thursday, he boarded a bus in Ballybofey not knowing if he’d be able to play in Waterford. The red tape of obtaining an International Clearance Certificate from the Football Association of Ireland meant he was, as he says, ‘sweating it’ on whether his debut could be made.
On route to the south-east, word filtered through that he’d been given the go-ahead.
At half-time, Harps trailed to Ben Ryan’s 19th minute goal and Hutton reckoned a change from the 4-5-1 cum 4-3-3 formation he’d had in the first half was necessary and so McCarron was sent in. They went 4-4-2 with Hutton telling the youngster: ‘Change the game’.
That, he did. “It was some buzz…something else really,” he says. “I love scoring goals.”
It is quite conceivable that McCarron will be handed a start tonight alongside Kevin McHugh in attack. The club captain, he says, has been a source of real inspiration, the sort that comes with the experience of the games and goals he has.
The aim for McCarron now is to strike it rich alongside McHugh and help to turn Finn Park into the fortress it once was.
McCarron says: “I’m learning from Kevin all the time. Even in training, he’s a great help. He has great experience and you couldn’t ‘not’ learn from a player like Kevin. I’m hoping to get a place in the team now and link up with him.
“I played with him in a few friendlies and it’s great to partner a player of his calibre. He’s a class act.”
McCarron came close to signing for Harps previously when, in 2011, Felix Healy and Hutton attempted to get him to Ballybofey. Complications over his registration at that point meant he was unable to sign, limiting him to a few friendly appearances.
In limbo, McCarron signed for Kildrum Tigers in the Ulster Senior League and he flourished in Raymond McDaid’s team.
“The Ulster Senior League is a great League to play in,” he says.
“It’s great for developing your fitness physically. Derry City have used it well to develop players and now Harps are in it, too.
“It can really help players because it’s a good standard and you can get a good experience there with some very good teams up against you.”
Previously, he’d spent some time at Institute and it was at Drumahoe that he found himself again in 2012. But his time at the Riverside Stadium is not one that he treasurers with much fondness.
“I didn’t really enjoy my time at Institute to be honest,” he says.
“It was alright, but I just wasn’t happy. The team was changing every week – very frustrating.
“People say that the standard there isn’t great but, in fairness, it isn’t that bad. It’s a hard League to get out of and it’s pretty competitive.”
As a teenager, he’d been with Derry City and was tipped for big things. A row with the then City manager Stephen Kenny meant that his talent wouldn’t be fulfilled at Brandywell, but he was determined to make it.
“Training full-time was something else,” he says of his spell at City.
“That’s the environment all footballers want to be in. Coming to Harps hasn’t lessened that though – the training here is really intense. We’re doing extra work and Pizza has really stepped it up for Harps this year.”
He travels now with Thomas McBride, Gareth Breslin and Matthew Harkin usually and he speaks very matter-of-factly when assessing the aims and hopes for this season. The recent past has taught the Finn Park faithful not to get too optimistic, for the crushing blows have shaken them too often.
McCarron, though, does not shirk when he says: “The aim for Harps has to be the Premier Division.”
Those words aren’t spoken with a swagger. Merely, he’s just stating the collective hope of the squad assembled by Hutton – and he’s seen enough evidence to convince him that the top flight can be reached.
“There’s no reason we can’t target the Premier.
“It’s important for the team to aim high; we can’t be content to be in Division 1. The mentality in the team is great at the minute. Everyone is buzzing.
“We need to build on a good result from Friday night now. I can’t wait to get a home game in – hopefully we can get the crowds back here again.
“There’s a professional mindset here. It has to be like that at this level.”
On Wednesday night last, Hutton used 25 players in a 2-1 friendly win over Letterkenny Rovers at the Aura Centre, which shows the depth to his squad right now. Gone are the days of players turning up and being ‘guaranteed’ their shirt.
McCarron says: “There is definitely a good squad there at the moment and there is real competition for places.
“It’s all about taking a chance when you get it really.”
It’s much like his own personal journey: Getting a chance and taking it.
He’s done just that and now he and Finn Harps walk hand-in-hand, hoping to take whatever chances come their way over the next 18 months.
He’s turned the corner all right.