Stewart in dream world as destiny leads to glamour date with Old Lady
BELIEVERS in fate can draw encouragement from the chain of events which brought Thomas Stewart to Shamrock Rovers and, by extension, Juventus to Tallaght Stadium.
In March this year, the Northern Irish attacker was in America, about to start a new life with Carolina RailHawks. He was a free agent after being a part of Derry City's tumultuous collapse from the League of Ireland's top table.
Something about his new situation didn't sit right, however. Stewart realised he'd made the wrong move and looked for a way out. Shamrock Rovers waded through the red tape to offer it.
A few short months later, Stewart was in the right place to bang home the winning goal in Israel and reap the significant windfall that accompanied it.
Not to mention a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lock horns with the Serie A giants in competitive fare.
"It puts everything into perspective that I made the right decision," he says. "It was a professional decision to come back. The fact that I'm playing Juventus sums it up really."
Stewart (23) loved watching Italian football as a child, remembering the times when it was a regular feature of Sunday afternoon terrestrial TV viewing. Fittingly, Juve were the team he followed, with Alessandro Del Piero his favoured player.
"Football Italia was something I watched," he recalls. "And Juventus was the first kit I ever had. It's a weird feeling, to have scored the goal last week. I know it's not about me, but it's a good wee buzz for myself.
"I think everyone knows about Juventus. The last few years, getting relegated and coming up, the names are on the tip of everyone's tongue. To have the opportunity to play them on your home turf is something that may never happen again."
When he picked up the scraps from Stephen Rice's long throw and blasted the ball into the Bnei Yehuda net, the feeling in his stomach was something he'd never experienced.
"The celebration inside me was one I never felt before. We all knew the size of it, although the first thing I did was turn around to look at the board and see how many minutes there were left. The 20 minutes felt like a lifetime.
"It's been exciting since then. It's just weird to know that Juventus will have to pen all our names down for set-pieces and all that. But hopefully we can do some justice for ourselves, and earn a bit of pride for Shamrock Rovers."