Eleven years after he had his first close encounter with the magic of Alessandro Del Piero, Central Coast Mariners midfielder Michael McGlinchey is preparing for another.
Only this time, after looking on from right behind the net as the Celtic ball-boy when Del Piero launched a magnificent free-kick for a Juventus goal in a UEFA Champions League first group stage match at Celtic Park, McGlinchey will be doing battle on the field with the Italian legend.
And the atmosphere is once again bound to be electric, with early ticket sales indicating the house is likely to be full at Bluetongue Stadium for Saturday night’s game between the Mariners and Del Piero’s Sydney FC.
It was October 31, 2001, when Del Piero and the rest of the Juventus stars came to Celtic for a group match. Celtic ended up winning a stunning encounter 4-3, but narrowly missed out on advancing to the second group stage. Juventus went on to win the group.
McGlinchey, 25, told The World Game he remembered the night like it was yesterday.
“I was 14, and I was really looking forward to the game,” he said.
“It was a surreal feeling being there and watching from such close range when so many great players were out on the field.
“I remember it was the best night I ever had as a ball-boy, and one of the greatest moments was when Del Piero scored from a free-kick. I was standing behind the goal, and he was lining it up from the right. I had a great view.
“He hit it across the goal - to the goalkeeper’s right - and it went into the top corner.
“He gave the ‘keeper no chance. It was a fabulous goal, and just another reminder that when players like Del Piero score like that it’s no fluke, because they do it too often.
“There were a couple of sensational goals that night. Chris Sutton scored a great one for us, with a left-foot volley. It was a fantastic experience to be there, really special.”
Del Piero has already scored one goal from a free-kick in the A-League, during the round-two game against Newcastle Jets. On that occasion, he also sent the ball to the goalkeeper’s right, but this time he hit it from the left.
“It just shows how versatile he is,” McGlinchey said.
“A free-kick from just outside the box is almost like a penalty to these guys. Obviously, we don’t want to be giving away free-kicks in that area on Saturday.”
But while the night of the Celtic-Juventus match will always remain one of McGlinchey’s cherished memories, he is a professional and won’t be caught out star-gazing when he faces Del Piero.
“That won’t be an issue,” McGlinchey said. “At the start of the week it was good to think that Del Piero is coming here to play, because the marquee players are proving to be really good for the league this season.
“They’re scoring plenty of goals and making a big impact, and the league is getting better and better because of that. There have been big-name players come out here before, but they haven’t always been successful.
“But we’re concentrating on getting our own game ready. We know Del Piero is dangerous, but we’ve got plenty of quality as well. Our defence has been great so far this season - we’ve only conceded two goals in four games - and we’ve had three clean sheets.
“Our attack is still a work in progress at this stage, but we’ve proved in the past that we can score goals, and the fact we’re defending so well is keeping the pressure off while we get the attacking side of our game together.
“We’ve had to play three away games in the first four rounds, and this is a hard comp, so we’ve done a good job to be up in the top four at this early stage.”