SIMON COX is calmer in front of goal than he is with a microphone in his hand. And it is safe to say, he is more talented too.
Not that Robbie Keane was prepared to take this as an excuse in June last year when Cox, unknown to the majority of the Irish squad, was asked to introduce himself to them on his first week with Giovanni Trapattoni’s panel.
Introductions, though, are a musical business with Messrs Keane and Trap. The tradition is that new players arriving into the Irish international set up have to sing their party-piece at the team hotel before gaining acceptance into the family. “A nerve-wrecking thought,” said Cox, “and one I tried to avoid. I offered to bring the entire squad out for a night and pay for every drink. They turned the offer down.”
Instead, the harshest singing judges outside of the X-Factor gathered around the dining table as Cox, red-faced, belted out the words to You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling. A time to cringe?
“You bet,” he said. “It was easily the most horrible moment of my life … until the second verse when everyone joined in. There and then, I felt part of the squad. Until then, I was walking around the team hotel shyly, not really knowing anyone. It’s definitely a way to break the ice.”
An even better way of breaking the ice is by scoring on your international debut, then getting a match-winning goal against Italy on your fifth cap, winning the man-of-the-match award in the make-or-break qualifier against Armenia and coming off the bench against the Czechs to save the show with a wonderful solo goal. Things like that make you popular.
“Right from the start, I’ve felt comfortable with Ireland,” said Cox. “In a bizarre way, the higher level has been easier to adjust to in some respects, in that all the players around me are of such a high standard that they see the runs I make and deliver the ball perfectly. After that, it comes down to confidence.”
And he has plenty of that – enough to tell Stephen Hunt and Kevin Doyle of his eligibility when they shared a dressing room together at Reading, and enough to speak up about his willingness to declare for Ireland at a time when some of West Brom’s fans, never mind Ireland’s, weren’t entirely sure who Simon Cox was.
Now, we all know.
Eligible via his Galway-born grandmother, Mary Langan, Cox got his credentials together long before the FAI called. More to the point, he said the right things.
“It was important to be respectful about a situation like the one I was in. I wanted people to know that I would be very proud to get the chance – not just for me but also my Nan, who I‘m very close to. I went to Myrehill as a kid. I knew the place was the place that made me and that it could have been where I’d grown up only for the economic circumstances of the time. I knew what I wanted.”
Yet during the long courtship, he didn’t know if Trap wanted him.
He said: “For a time, I wondered if I would get the call – so I had to be patient about Ireland, not to mention West Brom.
“Even now, I have yet to have even half a season playing regularly with them. Of course that can be frustrating but when you are a squad player, you have to realise that the chance will come when you least expect it so it is important to ensure you are always in a good place, mentally as well as physically.”
But therein lies Cox’s problem. At West Brom he is close enough to the stage to hear the music yet not favoured enough to be given a walk-on part on the Premier League show.
Instead, his auditions have been limited to Cup competitions, although there he has excelled, scoring eight goals in 14 starts, suggesting he deserves more opportunities than the 30 league starts West Brom have afforded him since his €1.8million move from Swindon two-and-a-half years ago. Then, there is the flip side to the argument, the fact he has scored just once in the Premier League.
Cox says: “Clearly I have a huge desire to play Premier League football but when other guys are in such excellent form, I cannot grumble about my absence.
“My confidence remains high – and is feeding off the fact so many guys are on such a high at the club, right now. If we were near the bottom of the League and getting stuffed and I still wasn’t getting in, then my mood wouldn’t be so good.
“But it’s fine. I’m happy with my progress – and have to remind myself that fairly recently I was playing League One football and going away to places like Carlisle. No disrespect to them but the Premier League is a step-up.”
And for West Brom, each season is about making another step-up. Mid-table mediocrity may be an unusual dream but when you have spent the best part of a decade yo-yoing between the Championship and the Premier League, you cannot afford to be snooty about what you ask for.
Cox says: “Each year, the sole purpose for a club like this has to be about survival. Then, we aim to do better than we did the previous season.
“By continuing to survive, we know we can attract better players to the club and eventually become a fixed part of the Premier League. It’s strange in a way because no trophies are handed out for finishing 12th or 13th. You don’t get a medal for it – but as a pro, it’s a big achievement.”
As was qualifying for the Euros.
“Had you asked me a year ago if I thought I’d be in the position I am in now, I’d have laughed at you. But I have done well with Ireland and just hope I have done enough in the games I have played to get the nod for the squad.”
Ireland’s X-Factor judges, Signor Trap and Tardelli, are watching closely.