JJ Melligan was a player who loved to try and get fans off their seats.
Attack-minded, taking on defenders, trying his luck from distance, sometimes with spectacular results.
That Wolves, his first club, and their next opponents Bournemouth, where he made his senior debut on loan, ultimately didn’t get the opportunity to see the best of Melligan’s mercurial talents has no bearing on the fond feelings he retains for both.
And for those among the Molineux faithful with only fleeting glimpses via two first team substitute appearances of the Dubliner’s overall career, it actually went on to be a very successful one across the lower leagues.
Notably just down the A449 at Kidderminster Harriers, where he was a key influence in helping them to their highest ever league position, at Doncaster, as a part of the squad which won the League Two title, and particularly at Cheltenham, whom he helped to another League Two promotion and then survival in League One.
In total, Melligan chalked up 331 appearances in English football – Leyton Orient completing his set – and notched 42 goals. Circumstances may have combined to prevent him ever really making a sustained breakthrough at Molineux, and he holds himself partly responsible for that. But he can certainly reflect with plenty of pride on a more than decent career.
“It’s funny – and I know a lot of players say this – but when you are playing, I am not sure you realise what you are doing or achieving until it’s all over,” he reveals.
“That’s when you look back and think, ‘did all that really happen’?
“I was chatting about this to my Dad not long ago in the sense that you don’t really take it all in when you are in the middle of your career.
“It is only when looking back, and even having conversations like this now, that it brings back memories and many happy ones as well.”
Now 41, Melligan has been back home in Ireland for several years, adapting to life after football but still keeping a keen interest.
“When I played, I never really enjoyed watching games but now I love watching again,” he admits.
And all this over two-and-a-half decades after first crossing the Irish Sea to pursue his dream of playing in England.
Part of an all-conquering Home Farm team which was winning every league and cup going in Dublin, and from whom nine of the first eleven clinched moves to England, Melligan was part of a strong Irish contingent seeking employment at Molineux.
From an age group above, Robbie Keane, Keith Andrews, Paul Loughlin, Stephen Hackett and Seamus Crowe were already in situe and Melligan and Home Park team-mate Shane Barrett were among another batch heading over for a trial.
Melligan had already come to the attention of Sunderland and Nottingham Forest, and there was even talk of Arsenal and Liverpool, but after impressing in his trial game, within 24 hours his parents had been summoned and he had put pen to paper on a Wolves scholarship with a professional contract scheduled to follow.
His status as the standout performer in the trial game also secured a shirt signed by all the players from Steve Bull’s testimonial match between Wolves and Brazilian side Santos, part of a motivational carrot dangled by then Academy manager Chris Evans, with whom Melligan got on well.
From there however, his Wolves career didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts. Which was due, in part, to a tragic and cataclysmic event which affected the entire world’s consciousness.
“When I first went over to start the contract, I suffered terribly with homesickness,” Melligan explains.
“I actually travelled over on the day that Princess Diana died, and came back a week later on the day of her funeral.
“I just really couldn’t settle at all, and I don’t know whether that was partly because of what happened as England wasn’t a great place to be because everyone was so upset.
“It ended up being a really bad time to go over and I ended up going straight back home.
“Six months later, I went back to Wolves, and tried again.
“I was more prepared this time, I knew what to expect and I was ready for it.
“Only thing was, I had lost that previous contract by going home, so I had to prove myself all over again.”
And the way to prove himself? Once back on the books and back in the building, as with so many young players, that was through loan spells elsewhere.
On the positive, this time Melligan had settled well at Wolves, he was lodging with Josie Edwards, who had previously looked after Keane and Hackett, and so the foundations were on far firmer ground as he looked to make a name for himself.
Bournemouth was the first port of call. Albeit a very different Bournemouth to today’s Premier League model.
Managed by Wolves fan Sean O’Driscoll, Melligan made his senior footballing debut, against Tranmere on December 1st, 2001, in a team including now Newcastle boss and assistant Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall.
The game ended in a 2-0 defeat – infact – in nine games of the loan spell, Melligan never ended up on the winning side, and Bournemouth were ultimately relegated into the fourth tier of English football.
But he was learning, always learning.
“It was a very different Bournemouth, before they had all the investment,” Melligan recalls.
“It was a different world, even to what it had been like with Wolves, because we had some decent facilities at Compton and at Bournemouth we were training in a park.
“The club gave me my debut, which I will always remember, and I thought we had some great players but we had no steel, we were all young lads.
“That’s why they got relegated.
“But after all that happened Eddie Howe worked wonders with them, didn’t he? Taking them all the way into the Premier League.
“And when I look back, for me, it was an important time because I needed to learn my trade and that is what those loan spells did.”
After Bournemouth, came Kidderminster.
In the 2002/03 season, Melligan made his way to Aggborough, initially with Wolves colleague Mark Clyde, and his football education continued.
Under boss Ian Britton, he was given licence to thrill, and duly delivered, scoring 12 goals in 32 games in a season which sees him fondly remembered by Harriers fans.
One of those came in a 4-0 win at Swansea which temporarily took Kidderminster to second in League Two, the highest league position in their history.
“I scored my first league goal at Kidderminster and loved my time there,” Melligan explains.
“I was given a free role, in behind Drew Broughton, and he did all the graft and I got on the end of his knock-ons and all his hard work.
“Going second at the time was mad, and even finishing 11th at the end of the season was brilliant given the budget they had at the time.
“It was kind of where things took off a little bit for me – not like I became a big star or anything – but helped my career kick on.
“It was an amazing experience, I really enjoyed playing for Ian Britton and enjoyed everything about it at Kidderminster.”
There was one glitch in the matrix during his season at Aggborough, and that was when he was called back for a very brief stay back at Molineux.
Clyde had already been recalled and was impressing in the heart of the Wolves defence, but Melligan’s return would sadly prove altogether more short and not at all sweet.
He came off the bench in the latter stages of a 2-0 win at Coventry, and then in a 2-1 victory at home to Nottingham Forest, but his Molineux bow included an excitable mistake which saw him far from flavour of the month among team-mates and management staff.
“I’d had about five minutes at Coventry and then came on late against Forest but obviously the Championship was a bit more tactical than I’d been used to before,” Melligan recalls.
“I went to chase a ball down when it seems that I shouldn’t have, because it took me out of position.
“Forest nearly got an equaliser afterwards through a Michael Dawson header from a free kick and, while I hadn’t given that away, I don’t think me being out of position had helped.
“I got an absolute hammering after the game, and was then sent back to Kiddy!
“It does feel harsh but it’s gone now, 20 years ago, and I just think I was too enthusiastic, finding myself playing for Wolves in front of a crowd of almost 30,000, having been at the club for so long.
“I wasn’t given any chance to learn from the experience but that’s the way it goes and I never played for Wolves again.”
It was extremely unforgiving, the school of hard knocks. But Wolves had some top players at the time and would go on and win promotion, as Melligan, who enjoyed the successful loan spell at Doncaster the following season, then made the permanent £25,000 switch to Cheltenham which was to prove so fruitful.
And it was two former Molineux influences, Robins boss John Ward and assistant Keith Downing who was Melligan’s Academy manager at Wolves, whose collective guidance proved pivotal.
“Cheltenham was unbelievable for me, the best time of my career,” he confirms.
“Not only did we have the promotion but a good FA Cup run which eventually ended with a great game against Newcastle who had Alan Shearer amongst others!
“Working with John and Keith again was amazing, and I can’t speak highly enough of what they both did for me at Cheltenham.”
His penultimate Robins appearance carried another highlight, a volleyed goal in a 4-2 comeback win at Rotherham which secured League One status, after which he moved on for almost three seasons with Leyton Orient, where he was again among the goals, along with a few moments of increased tensions with managers, one of which eventually prompted his departure.
That took Melligan back to Ireland, and Dundalk, where he made an excellent start, to the extent that, just as the team were about to set off for Luxembourg to start their Europa League campaign, Cheltenham took up a clause in his contract allowing him to talk to any interested English clubs.
And so, during the 2010/11 campaign, he became a Robin once again, but that would prove his final season as a full-time professional.
Even though he was only 29, Melligan gradually drifted away from the game, at senior level at least, his love of football meaning he continued to play non-league, including for Solihull Moors, Wolverhampton Casuals and Hinckley Town.
When you look back, those scores on the doors – the appearances and the goals – not to mention a couple of promotions, show that he certainly enjoyed a successful career, and one he should undoubtedly be very proud of.
He also retains that same sense of pride in representing his country, landing a solitary but precious cap for the Republic of Ireland under-21s against Scotland whilst he was ripping it up at the Harriers.
Could his career have been better? Could he have done more at Wolves? It was perhaps a time in football when players of his technical ability without the accompanying physical stature were less trusted at a higher level. Especially in a traditional 4-4-2 formation.
The increasing use of three-men midfields in the modern game would have suited Melligan down to the ground.
Timing is always an issue as well. With Wolves promoted to the Premier League, opportunities for younger players to break through at Molineux were always going to be way more challenging and, as a result, more limited.
And also, to his immense credit, Melligan is unfailingly honest about things he could have done better, which just might have improved his chances with Wolves.
“I always think when you look back you think you might have done better here or there, but I’m happy with what I was and what I achieved,” he admits.
“And Wolves taught me loads.
“They taught me about timekeeping, about making sure you look fresh, looking after yourself.
“Being brutally honest, I probably didn’t prepare properly on occasions, and had one or two drinks too many from time to time, and there wasn’t the same sort of advice and nutritional help as there is in the game now.
“Things were a lot different then to how they are now, and there is probably more support available now.
“I’m also an only child, and I was away from home, keeping a lot in, and not telling people stuff.
“If I had problems, I kept them all in, but having someone to talk to would probably have made things very different – I am sure it would have helped.
“And trust me, I learned from my mistakes, and if I ever spoke to a young player now, I would be able to send them in the right direction based on my experiences.
“But Wolves made me into a man really, and that’s one thing I will always be very grateful for.
“Would I have liked to have played more games for the club? Of course, I would. But I understand why I didn’t, and I’m certainly not bitter about it – I will always look back only with happy memories.
“So, while I have always been a Liverpool fan, Wolves will always be my second team.
“And my career as a whole? I didn’t think I’d ever manage to play one league game so to play over 300 was a massive achievement, and I loved every minute,
“I loved getting on the ball, trying to make things happen – it was always attack, attack, attack.
“When you look at teams now, even the good ones, they are often quite happy to just keep the ball and go sideways or backwards to keep possession.
“For me, in the final third, I always wanted to do something that would get people off their seats.”
Having said that, it is unlikely that Melligan will be able to hit those sort of heights and lofty ambitions again in the future.
And that’s because the last time he played football was a charity match on Boxing Day of last year, St Stephen’s Day, as it is celebrated in Ireland.
He played at centre half, and his team lost 6-0. Father time perhaps calling on the effervescent Melligan to finally hang up the boots.
In all seriousness, there is now far more for Melligan to cherish, away from football, with a settled home life back in Dublin.
He is engaged to Sarah, has two children from a previous relationship in Finley, 16, and Beau, 11, and is very much content and comfortable in his own skin. Life is good.
And he will always have his memories. The dreams realised. And the successful CV of a professional footballer, one who always wanted to entertain.