Sliding Doors: What if Falkirk... striker Kevin O'Hara had scored against Rangers?
In the first of our series of sliding doors moments we look back on a memorable moment for young Falkirk striker Kevin O’Hara – that never was.
Prolific in the Academy, and under-20s, hopes were high for Kevin O’Hara, Falkirk’s young striker.
Calls were continuous for Peter Houston to pitch the rookie striker into the team to replicate his goal-scoring prowess that had seen him score, as he recalls, “from memory between 12 and 15 goals a season” in the age-groups below the senior team.
He’d been called up to the Scotland under-16s too.
But Houston resisted. He gave him a debut off the bench in Dumfries shortly before the Scottish Cup final of 2015. A couple more appearances followed the next season, both from the bench with little time to make an impact – and then O’Hara was pitched in as a surprise inclusion at Easter Road to run at Hibs one December afternoon, and run he did.
The enthusiasm and drive – and most importantly confidence – was there from the young forward, then aged 17, just as the fans who had watched his rise through the ranks knew. He didn’t manage a shot on target, and was replaced by Lee Miller who went on to score but after a full debut to remember had been achieved and hope were high. Next was Rangers – surely a return for the veteran, established names for the TV match and a cautious withdrawl from the limelight after a taste of first-team action for O’Hara. Not for Houston.
He rewarded the Hibernian performance with a second start – on live television, against Rangers, and all the pre-match focus was on the prodigious young talent that Peter Houston had fearlessly included in his starting line-up once again.
“Kevin did not look out of place,” said then captain and now Falkirk manager David McCracken. “He is the type of player who creates his own luck and he’s beginning to stand out more in training and show what he’s capable of.”
The confidence in him, was proven when he replicated it on the pitch.
O’Hara ran at Rangers like he’d harried Hibs and was a stand-out. He deserve a goal. He had three shots, none went in, but one should have.
Only for the heroics of Wes Foderingham were two excellent strikes in either half kept out. The 17-year-old beat the Rangers number one after 25 minutes, sliding the ball across the face of goal and it was heading for the net before John Baird made sure.
His strike partner had already found the net with a third minute penalty following a contentious Willie Collum award for Danny Wilson’s foul on Will Vaulks on the edge, or outside, the box. But he tried to seal a second.
Seal, not steal. Baird was only making sure the ball ended up in the net, but in doing so, he was caught offside and the goal for himself or O’Hara was ruled out. A fairytale evporated as the assistant referee’s flag fluttered on the east side of The Falkirk Stadium that December day, but undeterred O’Hara pressed on but was still denied his goal, by the goal-frme then goalkeeper in the second half.
Baird apologised afterwards. “He didn’t have too,” insisted Peter Houston, defending his player. “I think the defender might have got there anyway, but goalscorers want goals.”
O’Hara too was fairly phlegmatic, confident than that the goals would come eventually.
“I went for goal - if I'd been Bairdy I'd probably have done the same. He's gutted for me. He wanted me to score my first goal and he's said sorry. I have forgiven him but it doesn't matter who scores, so long as the team does.”
The Bairns went on to win, O’Hara was included a further dozen times, but crucially only once from the start. And the goals didn’t come. After coming so lose against Rangers the net seemed further and further away.
What would have happened had he scored that goal that day? Indeed, what would have happened had he scored for Falkirk full stop?
For all the goals in the under age categories, Falkirk looked to have a prime poacher on their books. The promise shown in those two starts supported that notion. But the goalscoring return did not.
It just didn’t happen. He began to be used wide in the attack rather than straight through the middle where he was most dangerous. Loan spells at East Fife and Stenhousemuir saw him spend likewise service on the flanks, although he did break his senior goal scoring duck, but just not back at the Bairns.
A goal on his second start, against Rangers, live on TV, it could have and should have been the start of something big for the Bairn but instead he became a frustrated bit-part player before leaving the club altogether on a free following relegation in 2019.
He stayed at Championship level though and has found the net 14 times in 34 games at Alloa – a ratio not far off his under-age potential while coming through the Falkirk youth set-up. The domino effect from getting one goal has stacked up and he’s been named player of the year in Clackmannanshire.
Now, he’s got Premiership clubs interested in taking him from Recreation Park where he rediscovered his goal-scoring touch.
What might have been had the ball crossed the line before the final fateful touch against Rangers?