Foyleside on a Friday night and there’s a whiff of expectation in the air as the last two First Division champions collide for the first time in the top tier since 2009.
New hotshot striker Rory Patterson may be absent for the home side after being sent off a week previous but it matters little as Derry City are on top form against their visitors from Cork – a weary band of travellers from Leeside sent away on the six hour drive home still without a win.
It may be a great night for those in red and white but as an outsider looking in, you can’t help but feel there’s something missing from the Derry line-up.
There’s no sign of James McClean slaloming his way past players on the wing and although Mark Farren and Stephen McLaughlin have their shooting boots on for Declan Devine’s men, as they score second half goals to make it nine points from 12 four games into the campaign, a certain Mr Zayed is here no more.
Instead the Dubliner is in the Gulf, quickly becoming a legendary figure in Iranian football. His story is unlike any other and one that is to be repeated ever again by a League of Ireland footballer.
As we all know, there’s a (hugely misinformed) conception that footballers aren’t the most intelligent group in society but Zayed is one of those that bucks the trend. Eamon has an MA in Finance and Capital Markets from DCU, is an eloquent speaker and an equally proficient writer (see some of his columns on the site for plenty of examples).
He is also, undoubtedly, a wonderful ambassador for our league.
We should be proud of players that make it in ‘bigger’ leagues and become heroic figures thousands of miles away from the grounds they earned their crust.
Nobody in their right mind would deny Eamon the success he has achieved so far in Persepolis. The adoration directed towards him after his first hat-trick against local rivals Esteghlal wouldn’t have been like anything ever seen before and to do it again in the Asian Champions League last week against Al Shabab Al Arabi was simply magical.
An interview on this website after the Esteghlal game was read by many of his new Iranian followers – with one even offering to take him to a nightclub. A strange proposal you might think, before you realise the tough drinking laws in Iran means there is no opportunity to unwind after a game.
Still, Eamon’s sense of adventure has resulted in an experience that no former player in this league has experienced before. Yes, George O’Callaghan was in Brunei last year – with Zayed joining him for a spell on trial before signing with Persepolis – but the man formerly known as the King at Turner’s Cross never had a chance to experience such unbridled joy in front of 80000 people, like Eamon did at the overwhelming Azadi Stadium.
Eamon is a player that the league should (and hopefully always will) be proud of. It would be a privilege to see him line out in the colours of an Irish side again and he is a special player that all of us who’ve spoken to him or interviewed him on behalf of this site will remember fondly even if he never returns to play on these shores.
By the way, after mentioning it in my last column, it was suggested by a few people that I should keep track of distance covered going to games. After a trip to Belfield and two skips across Cork to Turner’s Cross, this weekend’s monstrous arse-numbing hike to Derry has put me on 1588km after just four weeks of the season. I just pity my passengers!
Before my next entry in three weeks time, there are three trips to Turner’s Cross with an Easter weekend visit to Dalymount Park thrown into the mix too. Perhaps I underestimated the over total of 10000km three weeks ago.
Alan Smith works as a sub-editor for the Guardian newspaper in London. Originally from Cork, he freelances for several other newspapers and websites. Follow him on twitter @alansmith90.