Last Friday night at Dalymount Park two Meath men featured in opposition as Bohemian FC hosted reigning League of Ireland Premier League champions Dundalk in a top-of-the-table encounter.
For 19-year-old Skryne teenager James Finnerty it was another tentative step on the League of Ireland ladder in his debut season with the Dublin club after returning from England.
At the other end of the scale, Bohermeen man and Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers is heading for 550 appearances in a 20-year career at the top level in this country.
Age triumphed over youth on Friday night as Dundalk moved to the top of the table with a 2-0 victory, but it has been a memorable transition for Finnerty and one he is enjoying after a spell in England
As a 15 year-old transition student year student at St Patrick’s CS, Navan, Finnerty signed a three-year deal with Aston Villa and made the move to the UK in July 2016.
A son of former Meath footballer Padraig Finnerty who was part of the team that won the Centenary Cup in 1984, James was also a talented Gaelic player.
His mother, Sheila McCormack from Killeen, is a relative of the famous Cavan footballer Phil ‘The Gunner’ Brady who helped the Breffni County win the All-Ireland at the Polo Grounds, New York in 1947.
Younger brother, Niall, is a member of the Meath minor football team this year and was in action against Wexford on Wednesday last at Pairc Tailteann.
Twelve months ago Niall helped Meath to victory in the u-16 Leinster Gerry Reilly Cup.
James played at under-age level with his local club Skryne/Tara FC and then with Ratoath Harps before signing for Dublin schoolboy club Belvedere FC.
Subsequently, he was invited over to Aston Villa for trials before they offered him that contract in 2015.
“In the Gaelic I played all over the pitch, but my favourite position was centre-forward,” he said.
“However, it was difficult to play both the Gaelic football and the soccer and it was something I had to make a decision about.
“I was playing in the Dublin & District Schoolboys’ League Kennedy Cup side and also for Belvedere and I knew I just couldn’t do both successfully.
“I went over to Aston Villa and I have no regrets whatsoever about the way things turned out, I enjoyed my three years there.
“I met some friends for life in my time there and obviously with the level of coaching I was getting, I learned so much both as a player and as a man.
“I was training every day with top players like John Terry and Jack Grealish, the facilities we had were second to none and it was a brilliant opportunity for me.
“It was tough playing against the likes of Johnathan Kodja and Scott Hogan, they’d bring your game on that’s for sure!
“I got my fair share of injuries and that hampered my progress a bit, an eight-month lay-off in my first year when I got a stress fracture in my back was a setback,” he added.
Twelve months ago he moved to Rochdale in a search of first team opportunities as at the time he was keen on staying in England.
There were a few clubs interested and he considered going to Brentford, but he felt he would get more of a look in at first team level at Rochdale, but it turned out to be a frustrating time.
“I wasn’t enjoying it, I was training all week and then on match days I was either on the bench or not in the squad,” I never really settled and by the end I was fed up,” he recalled.
“I just wanted to play football, at that stage I had my mind made up, more or less, to come home and when I got the offer from Keith Long (Bohemian FC manager) it was a chance I decided to take.
“Keith wanted to meet me as soon as possible to try and get something sorted and as soon as I met him I knew I wanted to sign for Bohs.
“He was the first to show interest in me, he was straight with me and told me he saw me as a first team option which was all I wanted to hear,” he added.
The Skryne man made the most of the opportunities that the move to Dublin provided.
He made the cut for the opening game of the season at home to Finn Harps and has been an ever-present since.
In his first 12 games he forged an excellent partnership in the heart of the defence with Rob Cornwall (nine games) and Aaron Barry (three).
“The two lads have been great to play with. Rob is only 25 but he’s a real leader and he’s really stepped up this season,” said Finnerty.
“Aaron has been brilliant whenever he’s come in and both of them have really helped my game, talking to me during games keeping me concentrated.
“Starting the first league game at home to Finn Harps was a massive confidence booster. There are experienced players in the team and I was the rookie, so I felt I had to show people what I’m about.
“And I wasn’t one bit surprised by the standard in the League of Ireland, I had plenty of mates in England like Ryan Delaney and Stephen Dooley who had played in this league and told me how good it was.
“A lot of people think that coming back home is a real step down in quality, but I don’t feel that way at all.
“I knew it would be tough and you don’t get a second on the ball, but I saw how well Dundalk did in European competitions so I knew it would be a good standard of football.
“I didn’t play senior football in England, only youth and u-23, so this is my first time to experience senior football.
“It has been a serious learning experience but I’ve loved it so far.
“The size of the crowds and the amount of coverage in the newspapers did surprise me though.
“All seven of our home games so far this season have been sell-outs and the atmosphere has been fantastic.
“The fans have been brilliant to me since I arrived here and we’d all love to keep the good run going to give something back to them.
“When you start at a new club, much like if you start a new job, you are keen to impress people and show them what you are about.
“That’s another reason why I was so pleased to make the first game of the season and be part of such a good start,” he said.
Finnerty has also displayed an ability to find the net for his new club and he notched a vital equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Derry at Dalymount in March.
He followed that up with a rather unusual goal against Sligo Rovers last month when he hit an overhead kick that glanced off his own head and looped into the net.
“I was delighted to get on the scoresheet and the equaliser against Derry was a very important goal - it was a nice finish to be fair,” he suggested.
“As for the other one in Sligo, well all my mates were giving me a right slagging over it,” he added.
And what advice would he have for any young players who are considering goping to England in the way he went over there in 2016?
“It’s a tough question to answer. Obviously if a young lad gets a good offer like I did from Aston Villa, then it is very hard to turn it down,” he said.
“But the advice I’d give them is that the League of Ireland is getting better and better, the academies here are far better even than four years ago when I was getting my chance to go over.
“Looking at it now I would advise young lads to stay here longer, get the Leaving Certificte behind you, use the pathways to the senior clubs that are available and go over when they’re older like 21 or 22.
“For the moment, my focus is on staying in the first team and I will also be starting the FAI Fás Course in Cabra in the coming academic year.
“In the short term, I want to stay in the Bohs team and play in as many games as possible, build on our good start and keep getting the results we have been getting.
“Keith (Long) and Trevor (Croly) have been brilliant to me, Trevor is a brilliant coach, he is so thorough and goes into such detail.
“Keith is excellent too, he knows exactly how to get you up for a game and how to give you confidence as a player. I have a lot of respect for both of them and it’s great to be playing in the first team,” he concluded.
THIS WEEKEND'S SCHEDULE
FRIDAY 17th MAY
SSE Airtricity League Premier Division
Cork City v Dundalk, Turner’s Cross, 7.45pm
St Patrick’s Athletic v Bohemians, Richmond Park, 7.45pm
UCD v Shamrock Rovers, UCD Bowl, 7.45pm
Finn Harps v Waterford, Finn Park, 8pm
SSE Airtricity League First Division
Athlone Town v Bray Wanderers, Athlone Town Stadium, 7.45pm
Galway United v Longford Town, Eamonn Deacy Park, 7.45pm
Wexford v Shelbourne, Ferrycarrig Park, 7.45pm
SATURDAY 18th MAY
SSE Airtricity League Premier Division
Sligo Rovers v Derry City, The Showgrounds, 7.45pm
SSE Airtricity League First Division
Cabinteely v Drogheda United, Stradbrook, 7pm
Cobh Ramblers v Limerick, St Colman’s Park, 7pm