IF Aiden McGeady's career is set to finally move into overdrive after a period when it seemed like slipping into reverse, the FA Cup is as good a platform as any for the maturation process to be completed.
While the competition's prestige may have decreased with the passing of time, coupled with the increased hype/ finances of the Champions League, on the blue side of Merseyside, it remains a prize worth fighting for.
For not only is it the last trophy Everton have won – 19 years ago – but also one that represents a glorious opportunity for Roberto Martinez's men this season, given how tomorrow's quarter-final draw will contain just two other teams from the Premier League's top eight.
"Obviously, we have got a belief," said McGeady. "We have beaten some of the bigger teams in the league, so why not in the cup? We have a chance."
Failing to take chances, however, has been a recurring theme of the 27-year-old's career whose return of just three goals from 63 internationals has left a succession of Irish managers, from Brian Kerr to Giovanni Trapattoni, scratching their heads in frustration.
If only this was their sole concern, but other shortcomings, namely his dubious decision-making and substandard crossing, have left him at a stage in his career where instead of reaching his peak, he is still trying to convince.
"The manager (Martinez) is always on about us not rushing things in the final third, picking the right pass, That's what he wants from me," says McGeady.
At least with Martinez, he has a credible teacher, one who not only is perfecting the art of making average players good – and good pros great – but who seems to be single-handedly on a mission to rescue Irish football from itself.
After all, McGeady is his second Irish purchase after his summer capture of James McCarthy from Wigan, and his concentrated focus on removing the raw edges from Seamus Coleman's game have had a noticeable effect.
"The manager has certainly made a massive difference," admitted Coleman. "The best example I can give is from the first game of the season when, at half-time, he brought me to the video analyst and showed me a piece of footage where it was pointed out how if I had continued a run, I could have got on the end of one of (Leighton) Bainsey's crosses.
"So, in the second half, I took a chance and got a goal. Last season, I probably wouldn't have taken that risk. That's one big change."
There have been other changes, too, namely the feeling of belonging. Initially conscious of his £60,000 price tag, it took the passage of time – and the reassurance of Martinez – to teach him to have more self-worth.
"Confidence came into my game in the last two seasons," said Coleman, "I could slowly see myself start to stand out in training more. But the manager has instilled a great belief in me too."
As he has with McCarthy. "James has matured at a great pace," said Martinez. "He has even more authority to his game than last season. In this League, when you are a young man, a year can make a big difference."
So it has shown. And into this environment comes McGeady, a player Lionel Messi once considered to be a match-winner and whose 93 games with Spartak Moscow brought about a healthy return of a goal, or assist, in every two matches. And yet still he remains stuck with the 'unfulfilled potential' label.
You wonder why this is and think back to 2004, the year he made his debut against Hearts, when Martin O'Neill jokingly referred to him afterwards as 'Aidendinho'.
"His skills today were unbelievable, like Ronaldinho," said the then Celtic and now Ireland manager.
A year later, Brian Kerr was speaking just as favourably. "Aiden is capable of getting by any defender in the world in a one-on-one," said Kerr. "He just needs time to mature."
By 2008, Trapattoni was prepared to give him that time. "I like McGeady. He excites. Defensively, and from a positional sense, I have to speak to him to get him to do what I need, but when he attacks, he goes, boom, he goes past men. Very good."
Yet how often has he been very good for Ireland? His performances in green have been – at best – sporadic and when you think of the stand-out games the team produced in the Trapattoni era, McGeady was rarely the one who made the difference. But after spending three years in a hugely underrated league with Spartak, there is finally a sense a corner has been turned.
"They play football in a different way at Spartak and I have definitely changed as a player," said McGeady in an interview last November. "I am glad I came here, it has been an eye-opening experience, to stay out here for three years and start a family. I have been playing in a very technical style of football, very tactical.
"We play 4-3-3 a lot, where I will be on the right or the left and expected to make runs beyond the strikers. When I came here I was used to 4-4-2 where I was a real wide player. That's fine when you are getting plenty of the ball; it is a lonely place otherwise."
Loneliness in Moscow was not confined to the pitch, though. "I miss home when I am away for a while," he said.
"I miss my family and there is a warmth to people in Glasgow that I miss. But I have come away from a place where everyone wants to speak, in a good or bad way, to somewhere that nobody really knows me."
After three years they did know him, though, not just as a player who could excite, but also one who was prepared to assume responsibility.
"We have been second, second and fourth in the league in my time here, but haven't won anything. It would be nice to leave having won a trophy," he said.
Events would conspire against him. A disagreement with the Spartak coach, Valeri Karpin, hastened his departure – but there was also an acknowledgement that for all the positive press he was receiving in Russia, his progress was going practically unnoticed back home.
"When I am with the Ireland squad sometimes I look at the guys who are playing in England and feel a bit jealous," said McGeady late last year.
"I feel I could be in the back of people's minds now, that I could be forgotten about. People ask me: 'Where are you playing now?' 'Oh are you still there?'"
By January, he no longer was. Martinez stuck his neck out to sign him, and immediately placed an emphasis on his crossing and improving his composure. The new boy – quite simply – has to become the delivery man.
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