A couple of months after Martin O’Neill took a sabbatical from football management to help look after his then ill wife Geraldine, this writer interviewed someone who had played minor inter-county Gaelic football with one of O’Neill’s great foot soldiers at Parkhead, Neil Lennon.
For ‘The Third Man’ read ‘The Third Match’ (featuring, um, Harry Liam). So here we are back in Vienna where, this evening, your painfully punning correspondent will be making his third trip to the Ernst-Happel Stadion.
It’s easy to scoff at claims from European stars Dusan Tadic and Robert Lewandowski Ireland are long-ball specialists but the proposition is indisputable according to Uefa’s technical report from the summer European Championships.
Keiren Westwood’s body language said it all. With 70 minutes played at Turner’s Cross on Tuesday, and David Forde given the nod to replace Shay Given in goal, it looked like the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper’s chances of booking passage to France had come and gone without him even donning the gloves.
Friday night marked four years almost to the day since Ireland’s last adieu to their Dublin faithful ahead of a European Championship bid and there were moments aplenty to make you wonder at how much has changed in that snapshot of time.
There has been a trend developing in football, or soccer, or whatever you call it yourself, whereby multi-million pound players leaving big clubs for other big clubs tweet or Instagram or communicate in some other new-fangled way their gratitude to the fans and the institution they are leaving behind.
When Ireland played Scotland in last November’s European Championship Qualifier at Celtic Park, much of the pre-match build-up was dominated by the potential presence of two Scottish-born players, James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady, in Martin O’Neill’s side.
As he contemplates a season in the Championship with newly promoted MK Dons — the club at which he is increasingly forging a coaching role — Keith Andrews insists he is not bitter about the abrupt manner in which his international career with Ireland dried up soon after the Euro 2012 finals.
No-one is bigger than the club. It’s a line we hear multiple times every season, even in this post-Bosman era of player power and multi-million pound contracts. It is a line we heard time and again when Roy Keane parted ways with Alex Ferguson and Manchester United back in 2005.
While it would clearly be ridiculous to make any kind of judgement on Martin O’Neill’s management after one game, tomorrow’s fixture in Tbilisi does offer a curious kind of acid test — and an immediate point of comparison.
So it’s business as usual, as in business unusual, across the Irish Sea, the fledgling new Premier League season having already sent the back pages into overdrive with LVG’s nightmare start at Old Trafford, Liverpool prepared to swap frying pan for fire as Balotelli replaces Suarez and, simply stinking the whole place out, the Malky Mackay scandal.