It was our biggest game since the Euros, but in the build up to the Austria game on Saturday night, it seemed like everyone in Ireland was focused on just one thing. Ever since the inclusion of Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle in Martin O'Neill's squad, League of Ireland fans were itching to see whether if either Dundalk player, or Horgan in particular, would get onto the field.
Fast forward to Saturday evening, and Ireland are starting to sit back on their precious 1-0 lead. With five minutes left on the clock, James McClean goes down injured. Dundalk fans start to salivate. This is the perfect opportunity. Horgan can come on to kill the game off and potentially nick a second on the counter.
Instead this happened.
Ireland: Put on Daryl Horgan
M'ON: I think I'll put on Aiden McGeady.
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) November 12, 2016
It wasn't to be. In the end, O'Neill chose experience over an exciting young talent when such a massive game was on the line. But did Horgan ever have a chance of featuring? Was calling up the two Dundalk boys merely a token gesture from O'Neill to the league? He wouldn't be the first manager to do so. Steve Staunton called up Joe Gamble of Cork City, while Don Givens included Glen Crowe and Wes Hoolahan in his squad when caretaker manager in 2002.
But the key fact there is that these were in friendlies.
Bringing on Horgan on Saturday would have made an important bit of League of Ireland history. The last player to play in a competitive Irish international, while still playing for a League of Ireland club, was Pat Byrne of Shamrock Rovers. It was almost exactly 31 years ago. He played the 13th of November 1985 against Denmark, a match we lost 4-1. Rocky IV was in the cinema. The Power of Love topped the charts.
But McGeady has more experience in these tight situations?
While this is true internationally, Horgan has been in that position so many times with Dundalk this season. He's a clever player, he knows what his job is if he has to kill the game. The champions had nine wins by the single goal with the likes of Horgan and Ronan Finn being key to closing the match out. And these weren't just against bog standard Irish teams, the same happened against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
O'Neill has always had a soft spot for McGeady, and the argument came online Saturday that the 30-year old was in better form.
Let's look at games leading up to Saturday.
McGeady: Seven appearances since the 10th of September, one goal, one assist
Horgan: Sixteen appearances since the 10th of September, five goals, five assists.
The Galway native would've been a nightmare for a tired Austria defence to deal with. Whether O'Neill wanted to take it to the corner or go for the kill on the break once the inevitable onslaught from Austria began.
Relax, he's going to play for Ireland in the future.
This is likely true, especially if he can continue his performances in the Europa League. But what's absolutely certain is he won't be playing for Dundalk when Ireland's next competitive fixture rolls around next March. The Lilywhites have seemingly already tried to replace his goals - they've been heavily linked with Christy Fagain of St.Pats.
If you mention the term 'magic airplane' to a League of Ireland fan, there might be a bit of anger. It's the theory that no matter how good you are playing in the domestic league, you have to get to England to get an international call up.
Brian Lenihan was the last player to be a 'victim'. He moved from Cork to Hull in August 2014 and was called into the Ireland squad in November. James McClean and Hoolahan were both considered international standard by pundits when they were playing in the league, but both needed moves away to break into the squad.
The league is in decline. Crowds are down, and club finances are heading in the same direction. Dundalk's European odyssey is undoubtedly a boost but there's a danger of it happening in a bubble. The league needed some proper recognition from its national team.
But the chance, for now at least, has been missed. The 31-year wait will go on.
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) November 14, 2016