A little under three years have passed since Jack O’Connell’s FA Cup highlight, but he can still remember every detail.
The Liverpudlian was on loan at Rochdale from Blackburn Rovers when the League Two side landed Leeds United in the third round draw.
Brian McDermott’s United were just one point adrift of the Championship play-off places at the time, the collapse in form that would see the former Arsenal midfielder dismissed the following summer still laying ahead.
So, the Yorkshire club represented a sizeable scalp for a Dale side who were 44 places lower in the football pyramid.
“The Leeds Cup tie was a great day,” recalled the 22-year-old Sheffield United defender when speaking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of tomorrow’s second round trip to Bolton Wanderers.
“That is probably the biggest Cup tie I have been involved in. It was a massive day for Rochdale with a big team like Leeds coming to Spotland.
“No disrespect to Rochdale, but they are not as big as Sheffield United so Leeds coming to Spotland was big news. It was a massive game and a sell-out.
“But we won the game and thoroughly deserved it. Scotty Hogan scored a good goal and we could have scored more than two (Ian Henderson getting the other for Dale).
“A win like that can be a massive boost to everyone at the club. A few people also got a move off that game. Not that any of us want that here, because this is a big club, but we want to put in a good display.
“If we can get through against Bolton, it is the third round and we could get anyone. That is the beauty of the FA Cup, you just don’t know. It could be one of the big dogs.”
The prospect of being in Monday night’s draw is, no doubt, occupying plenty of minds in the lower divisions this weekend.
Third-round day – or, more accurately these days, weekend – remains a major highlight in the football calendar as the big boys join a competition that began way back in August.
A tie against holders Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal, for instance, remains the Holy Grail even for clubs such as the Blades and Bolton, whose priority this season is winning promotion.
“These are probably the two biggest teams in the second round,” said O’Connell about tomorrow’s meeting between two of the top three sides in League One.
“The draw probably couldn’t be tougher, but it is what it is. We have to go there and get the win. We are away from home so that means Bolton might come at us a bit more. That could help us.
“I am not sure if it is better to play a team you know than a non-League team. I suppose it depends who it is. The way Bolton are playing, maybe it is not the best one for us. But we will go there, work hard and try to impose our game on them.”
O’Connell’s debut for United came at the Macron Stadium on the opening day of the season. It ended in defeat, Jay Spearing’s first-half goal being enough to hand Phil Parkinson a winning start on his managerial bow with the Trotters as Chris Wilder’s own reign with the Blades ended in disappointment.
The next three league games then yielded just one point to leave the lifelong Blade’s charges sitting rock bottom of the table.
Then came a 15-game unbeaten run that only came to an end on Tuesday night at home to Walsall.
Parkinson was in the crowd on a scouting mission as Billy Sharp missed a penalty and had a ‘goal’ disallowed against the victorious Saddlers.
Defeat meant Parkinson’s Bolton side go into tomorrow’s ‘War of the Roses’ occupying second place in the table, two points ahead of United, and it seems likely that both clubs will be scrapping it out with leaders Scunthorpe United and probably Bradford City for the two automatic promotion berths.
That chase for the top two is the main focus this season, but Parkinson knows all about the thrill of a major Cup run from his time at Valley Parade.
Chelsea and Sunderland were both beaten en route to the Bantams reaching the quarter-finals in the 2014-15 season.
The previous season, of course, the Blades went one better and reached the semi-finals, where it took extra-time for Premier League Hull City to see off Nigel Clough’s side and book a final date with Arsenal.
“Their manager knows what the Cup is about,” added O’Connell.
“He has had a lot of success in the past and that will make them up for it.
“We know it will be a tough tie, but Bolton will feel the same. We are the two biggest teams left in at this stage so they will be fearing us as well.”
A draw tomorrow will see the replay staged in the week beginning Monday, December 19, a week later than would usually be the case. This is due to United’s trip to Coventry City having already been brought forward two days to Thursday, December 15 to be shown live by Sky.
As for that opening-day meeting and whether it will work to Wanderers’ advantage when hostilities are resumed at the Macron tomorrow, O’Connell insists it will play no part in deciding who goes through to the third round.
Nor does he believe the result tomorrow will impact on the league dual between the clubs.
“I don’t think it will have any bearing on the league,” added the defender.
“This is just a Cup game, nothing to do with the league. We don’t get points so that means we can both go out there and play our normal game.”