When Conor McGregor steps into the ring at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night, he will already be regarded as a sporting behemoth.
Love him or loathe him, the Irishman has made even the casual observer care about the mega-money fight/farce (delete as appropriate) against former five-division world boxing champion Floyd Mayweather.
But while McGregor has excelled in the MMA ring for almost a decade, he also has a hidden amateur football past in his locker.
‘A goal machine’
Long before he hit the big time in the UFC, McGregor kept himself busy as many young Irish lads do, by playing amateur football.
In his native Dublin, McGregor regularly turned out for Slieveamon United and Yellowstone Celtic in the United Churches League and Leinster Football League respectively.
It will come of little surprise to most that McGregor fancied himself as a striker, proclaiming himself a ‘goal machine’ on Twitter back in 2013.
Whilst it may look like a typically immodest stance from the MMA champion, his former managers acknowledge McGregor’s significant footballing abilities.
He used to just say to the rest of team ‘just give me the ball and I’ll do the rest’Former manager Robbie Beakhurst
“He played for me with a club called Slievenamon United when we played in the UCFL. He was a striker and was our top scorer every year,” former manager Robbie Beakhurst told the Junior Soccer Portal.
He continued: “I took over Yellowstone Celtic and took him with me and again he was scoring for fun on a weekly basis.
“He used to just say to the rest of team ‘just give me the ball and I’ll do the rest’ – he was a smashing player but we had a decent team.
“As he got more involved in the MMA he couldn’t make matches and we allowed him to skip training.”
WATCH: Conor McGregor’s amateur football roots
The team-mate’s view
When Kilmarnock midfielder Alan Power mimicked McGregor’s famous ‘Billy strut’ after scoring for Lincoln in the FA Cup in January this year, fans thought the joke was on McGregor.
What they may not have been aware of was Power and McGregor’s exisiting friendship, which dates back over a decade.
The two played Sunday league together in Dublin, and while Power ended up becoming a professional footballer, his former team-mate has overshadowed his footballing fame.
“Conor is huge in Ireland, especially in Dublin. He’s someone I admire greatly, what he has achieved, it’s remarkable,” Power recalled to the Telegraph earlier this year.
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“We used to knock around in the same circle of friends back home when we were growing up.
“He played Sunday League football where I did, actually he wasn’t a bad footballer, but he chose a different path.”
Time for transition
McGregor clearly had some footballing talent when he was younger, but it was in combat sports that he had his heart set on.
From an early age McGregor would start off boxing, before transitioning to mixed martial arts.
Was it football’s loss? Probably not, but it goes some way to show McGregor’s considerable talents in and out of the cage.
David Glennon coached McGregor for Yellowstone in those early days, and told the Herald that the young McGregor only had his eyes on one sport.
“He was always a bit more interested in MMA, but he would have certainly been one of the fittest on the team.
“I think he played for a year, maybe two, just before we broke up the Saturday side.
“The first year he was generally down with us all year, but in the second, you’d be lucky to get him in once a week, because he got more into the MMA.
“We told the players the situation, but that we still wanted to play him, and they all took it well, because I think they knew Conor was one of the better players on the team,” he said.
Whatever football’s loss was certainly MMA’s gain, as McGregor stands to earn a remarkable $100million from his solitary fight against Mayweather on Saturday night.
Does he still have the talent?
Obviously McGregor put the football on the backburner while his MMA career went from strength to strength.
But recent clips uploaded online suggest his touch is still there, and he’s even incorporated his primary sport into his keepy-uppies.
The clip below shows McGregor mixing his sports, combining some kick-ups with a spinning heel kick to finish off.
And if that wasn’t enough for you, the following one includes a genuinely impressive trick at the end of it.
We know better than to judge a player on a couple of YouTube tricks, but going on what his previous managers and team-mates have said, it’s clear McGregor’s amateur footballing past is not to be sniffed at.
Now, all he has to do is the small matter of stepping in a ring with Floyd Mayweather…
⚽CONTE OUT: The bookie's view⚽
“WE’VE seen some unbelievable movement on Conte,” says Tim Reynolds, Sun Bets spokesman.
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“Last night he was 14/1 to be the next Prem boss to go – now our traders have been forced to slash him to just 6/4.”
“And with Thomas Tuchel hovering that price will only go one way.”