THERE is no fear of John Thompson being overawed when he lines out in the FA Cup this afternoon against the millionaires of Manchester City. Even before he left Dublin in 1998, he had experience of big games and shared a pitch with great players -- and he has always held his own.
He was in his Leaving Cert year in O'Connells CBS when he helped create history in 1998 as part of the Irish under 16 team, which won the European Championship in Scotland. "No Irish team had won anything before that, so that final against Italy was a very special night," he recalled. "It was a great game to play in. All of us were in school at the time and we knew it was live on RTE and it was a big occasion for the country."
Five years later, two of that team, Thompson and Andy Reid, were in the Nottingham Forest side competing for a place in the Premiership via the Championship play-off.
"It was a big season for all of us, and we very nearly got to the Premiership. After drawing 0-0 with Sheffield United at home, we were winning 3-1 away in the semi-final second leg, but lost in extra-time. It was a horrible feeling, because it was a game we should have won. They got the rub of the green that night. Des Walker, who was playing alongside me, scored an own goal."
Around that time, his former youth mentor, Brian Kerr, came calling and he won a senior cap. "I was in about six or seven Irish squads and on the bench for quite a few games, but the game against Canada was the only time I got on.
"I was unlucky with injury at that time, and then Forest were relegated. I would like to have more caps, but everything was wrong in my career. It was the wrong time to get injured."
A move to Oldham seemed a good one when his contract was up, but in two seasons his injuries got worse, and he played very little football. "The only good thing from Oldham was that I had a serious knee operation, and I haven't had a problem with it since, so that I feel in better shape than I was seven years ago.
"Andy Reid recommended the surgeon and he fixed my knee. I had damaged the medial ligament on my right knee seven times, and that's three months out each time, so it was important to get that operation done."
Thompson and Reid stay in touch, and last month they met in the third round of the FA Cup, with Thompson and Notts County coming out on top against Sunderland in the Stadium of Light. "I marked Andy that night because I was playing right-back, and it was good to get one over him.
"We raised our game and if we can repeat that performance against Man City, it should be a good game. They won't fancy coming to our place. Meadow Lane is a tighter ground than they are used to, and we are expecting a full house for the first time since I came here two and a half years ago."
His move to Notts County was thanks to his former Forest youth manager, Ian McParland, and last season was special when, as club captain, he lifted the League Two trophy after the last home game against Cheltenham.
However, being captain doesn't make you immune to being dropped as he discovered this season. "Every footballer has that experience, and I've had it just as much as any player. After being sent off against Southampton earlier this season, I found it difficult to get back. It took five or six games.
"I've also been that person who played well and expected to keep my place. Football is more of a squad game than it ever was, so lots of players will go through times when they are not in the starting eleven."
Of today's opposition, Thompson reckons he has only played against Shaun Wright-Phillips. "They are a team full of stars, and it's great to play against them, but the pitch might be a bit of a leveller," he warns.
He is also hoping to find something that's been missing from his game recently. In over 150 games for Forest he scored seven goals, while in over 100 for County he has only hit the target twice.
"The goals came mainly when I was playing in midfield, and I haven't played there for County," he explained, "but I'm due to score one, so it would be nice to do it against Man City."
Notts County v Manchester City,
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