Preston North End midfielder Neil Kilkenny has a football story to one day tell the grandchildren about – the time he shared a pitch with Lionel Messi.
Kilkenny was in the Australia team which faced Argentina at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
An Argentinian side packed full of talent beat the Aussies 1-0 in the group stages and went on to win the tournament.
Like many players who have faced Messi at international and club level, Kilkenny was not able to stifle the football genius.
“I couldn’t get near him,” said Kilkenny with a wry smile as he recalled events seven years earlier.
“Football at the Olympics is an Under-23s tournament and I went with Australia to China in 2008. Argentina, Serbia and Ivory Coast were in our group, Argentina beat us 1-0 and went on to win gold.
“That summer Pep Guardiola had taken over as Barcelona coach and there was a big to-do about Messi going to play at the Olympics.
“Barcelona wanted him to stay and play for them in the Champions League qualifiers.
“They went to court over it and won but Guardiola had played for Spain at the Olympics earlier in his career. He told Messi that if he wanted to go to the Olympics, then he could do.
“Argentina had a great team in Beijing – Riquelme, Di Maria, Aguero and Mascherano were in their squad as well as Messi.”
When recounting events in his career, Kilkenny should also drop in reference to the goal he scored for North End in Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw against his former club Bristol City.
It was a peach of a finish from the 29-year-old just after the interval, his shot from 25 yards arrowing into the far top corner.
Kilkenny does not score many, this his first in a competitive game for 13 months and only the fourth in a Preston shirt.
By his own admission, he does not shoot often enough, and maybe the joy he got from finding the net in midweek will inspire him to set his sights more often.
“If I’m honest, I don’t really shoot enough,” said Kilkenny.
“A few opportunities drop my way but I’m never greedy enough to go and shoot – other players will shoot a lot more than me.
“If you remember I scored one here at Deepdale against Preston for Leeds a few years back, that was from quite a way out.
“People keep telling me I should shoot more and hopefully that springs into my mind when I get a split second to think during a match.
“I need to think ‘why not have a go?’ and see if I can hit the target to help the team.
“It was a fantastic strike for the goal on Tuesday night, I had a bit of time on my hands and decided to have a go.
“I hit it nicely and it flew into the top corner which got me buzzing.
“When I scored I didn’t really know how to celebrate, I just ran off and the lads eventually caught me up – they were happy for me.
“My close family and friends do set me a goal tally to aim but I have never reached it because of not shooting enough.
“After the game it was nice to get quite a few texts saying what a good goal it was.”
Asked whether scoring against Bristol City gave him additional pleasure, there is a pause before Kilkenny answers.
His two-and-a-half years in the West Country was not the most enjoyable, with him not finding his feet there after a move from Leeds.
He said: “I’m not going to lie, it was nice to score against my former club.
“It was well documented that I did not have the best of times there.
“Bristol City is a fantastic club and did so well last season to go up like we did.”
Kilkenny’s midweek strike had given North End hope of their first Championship win for a month and just their second in the league this season.
But a late, and it must be said, deserved equaliser saw the Robins take a point.
“It was an end-to-end game and after being 1-0 up, we were disappointed not to go on and see the game out,” said Kilkenny.
“We need to learn to put games to bed a bit better because there have been games this season when we have played well but not got what we deserved.
“Now we will see what Brentford have for us this weekend and we’ve been getting ready for that.
“From what we saw of them in the last couple of years, Brentford are a very good footballing side.
“I haven’t seen them this season yet but we have been doing some work on them in training.”
Although results have not quite gone the way Preston would want in the first month of the season, Kilkenny is enjoying being back in the Championship, a level he played at for Birmingham, Leeds and Bristol City.
He said: “I have been here before and I prefer it.
“There is a bit more football played which helps my game instead of the ball being in the air and having to pick up a lot of second balls like it is in League One.
“I feel the game should be played on the floor so I’m enjoying it in this division.
“I feel I have done well when I have played this season and hopefully I can continue to do that in the games ahead.”