IF he’d followed the GAA path, Eoin Toal might well have lined out for Armagh alongside his cousin Ethan Rafferty in last month’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway.
But the 23-year-old centre-back, who played up to minor level for St Colmcille’s, Grange and was a MacCrory Cup star at St Patrick’s, Armagh, chose soccer instead. His form for Armagh City led to a move to Derry’s Candystripes and after six and-a-half seasons and 15 first team appearances at the Brandywell, Toal has signed for English League One outfit Bolton Wanderers.
'The Trotters' had an initial bid turned down by Derry City but were successful with a second offer and Toal has followed in the footsteps of James McClean, Paddy McCourt, Niall McGinn, Connor Sammon and David Forde who all made the move across the Irish Sea.
Toal’s final game for Derry was last Thursday night's Uefa Europa Conference League second leg tie in Riga and now he is determined to make the breakthrough into Ian Evatt’s first team.
“It’s brilliant,” he said.
“I know it’s been on the cards for a few weeks and I’m glad it’s done now and I’m really looking forward to it. I built up a lot of good relationships with Derry, a lot of good people there. I can’t thank them enough for letting this go through.
"It’s a club I’ll always have time for and I’ll always be supporter of but I’m looking forward to this opportunity.
“Bolton is a massive club and I think it was just too big of a club for me to turn down and it’s a very good opportunity for me to showcase myself in England.
“I’ve seen a lot of players and a few of my friends who have come over to League One and done really well and I don’t see why I can’t do that.
“There’s a good buzz about the place and everyone was really friendly and welcoming so I’m really looking forward to starting now. It feels like a club that’s going place and looks like it’s preparing to get better and better.”
Toal’s uncle Peter Rafferty lined out for Armagh with distinction during a long playing career and subsequently managed the Orchard county’s U21 team to All-Ireland glory in 2004. Peter’s son Ethan was a revelation for Armagh after converting from a full-forward to goalkeeper in this season’s Championship.
Meanwhile, the Toal family is synonymous with road bowls in Armagh. Eoin’s uncle Mickey is a legend of the sport of ‘bullets’ and his cousin Thomas Mackle is a former All-Ireland champion.
Grange GFC tweeted yesterday: “Huge congratulations to our very own Eoin Toal. What a fantastic achievement Eoin, we all wish you the best of luck with the next chapter of your career.”
Bolton boss Ian Evatt said the former Premier League outfit had been attracted to Toal’s versatility and by the experience he had already gained during his time at Derry City.
"It’s been well documented how in-depth we are with our recruitment process and how we identity position specifics in players and if their attributes fit how we want them to play,” said Evatt, a centre-back himself during his playing days.
“Eoin ticks all of those boxes. He’s a young player with a huge amount of experience – albeit in a different division; captain of a top-division team in Ireland, who has played European football and who has vast attributes we feel we can improve on.
“We know he’s got good versatility and as coaches we feel we can still improve him and he will get time to settle.”