Mikel Arteta spoke respectfully about Dundalk in his press appearances ahead of Arsenal's first competitive clash with a team from these shores.
The Spaniard does not have any Irish players in his dressing-room, but there is a substantial Irish presence around the club, and the 38-year-old said they had given him some pointers on what to expect. He had even read up on the unlikely back story of coach Filippo Giovagnoli.
Mayoman Barry Solan is the closest to Arteta in his role as lead strength and conditioning coach, while Galway's Des Ryan is the head of sports medicine and athletic development at the academy. Tipp native Paudie Roche works with the academy's strength and conditioning team, while Dubliner Ken Gillard coaches the U-18 team. Limerick's Yvonne Tracy, the former Ireland international, also has a backroom role in the kit department.
But the newest member of Arsenal's green contingent is naturally the one most engaged by the Dundalk encounter, even though he won't be able to attend the game due to the tightness of the Covid-19 regulations.
Dubliner Eoin Clarkin is the lead strength and conditioning coach with the Arsenal women's team, the job that lured him away from his full-time role at Oriel Park in early 2019. Clarkin, who had a background working with UCD and Kilmacud Crokes, was brought to Dundalk by Stephen Kenny and has recently taken up a role within the Irish U-21 set-up.
He was working away under Vinny Perth when enquiries from Ryan about a role that needed filling led to the opportunity in London cropping up. Much as he was only getting going at Dundalk, and benefiting from new facilities that were designed to help him, he ultimately concluded that the opportunity to link up with a global force was too good to turn down.
"I met Des during my masters and we'd kept in touch a little bit," explains the 30-year-old.
"Des asked me if I would be interested in interviewing. I said I would but I saw myself staying in Dundalk.
"But I got through the first round, and then the second round and then I was offered the job. It wasn't an easy decision. It definitely turned my head. With my age and profile and the time I was at in my career, I wanted to take a shot at England and see the opportunities. I couldn't say no, but I felt gutted to leave because I still wanted to explore more parts of the Dundalk journey. I didn't want to leave home, but I haven't looked back since."
Clarkin was taken aback by the world-class facilities at Arsenal's London Colney base. The Irish faces helped him settle too. Katie McCabe is a key member of the Arsenal side, and Louise Quinn was there when he arrived but has since moved on. The men's and women's sides are in the same complex, although Covid-19 rules have put more distance between groups.
Prior to that, there was a regular degree of interaction and Clarkin has regular chats with Solan with a view to learning and sharing information. He points out that trying to emulate what the men's side of the building are doing has a ceiling in terms of value; it's as beneficial to find out what the leading practitioners in the women's game are doing.
"It's ok to ask questions," he says, "We've a very elite academy, with Des Ryan, and there is a community there where we can sit down, bounce ideas off each other and take little bits.
"The main difference I've noticed working with female athletes is just that they ask more questions. They want to know why they are doing things. That means I have to rationalise things more which is good for you.
"The Dundalk job really helped me to prepare and come into this environment. I've worked with two really good dressing-rooms that have won things, two player-led dressing-rooms. You don't have to get on top of standards because they kind of run themselves from that end."
Clarkin retained a good relationship with Kenny and was happy to get the call from Jim Crawford to work with the U-21 group during their recent camp and big qualifying game in Italy. He wasn't able to see family on trips back due to bubble rules.
Dundalk full-back Darragh Leahy was with the U-21s and that gave them a chance to chat about the novelty aspect of this clash. But Clarkin will be a TV viewer in St Albans while his former colleagues are down the road.
He had to adapt his own working life through Covid, feeling like a delivery driver at the start as he dropped equipment to various players before conducting classes over online media.
There's a bit more normality in his day-to-day now, but missing out on this reunion with old pals is very much a case of so near but yet so far.