IT IS almost a decade since Tommy Coyne played the last game of a 20-year senior career that yielded more than 200 goals.
• Family favourites: Tommy Coyne senior and junior with the former's six-year-old son Mitchell. Photograph: Robert Perry
All of 16 years since the striker led the line for the Republic of Ireland in their World Cup win over Italy at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey. The same time since, with Motherwell, he became the only player in the history of Scotland's Premier set-up to be league top scorer with three different clubs. And it is 21 years since he fulfilled a career ambition by signing for Celtic. Yet, it is only four weeks since the 47-year-old experienced his most stomach-churning moment inside a football ground.
When his son Tommy Coyne stepped up to take a penalty for Linlithgow Rose in the second leg of the Scottish Junior Cup semi-final against Lochee United with his side trailing 2-0 on aggregate and little more than a half to play, Tommy senior couldn't help himself. "I was a bag of nerves," he admits. "I'd never been as nervous in any game I'd played, but I just wanted this final for him so much. I remember being calmer when I took a shoot-out penalty in the 1990 Scottish Cup final (against Aberdeen], so that tells you how bad I was."
His son has another interpretation. "He thought I was going to miss," says the 22-year-old, the oldest of Coyne's five children. "But I had confidence in myself, even if I wasn't 100 per cent."
The penalty conversion, and a second late on from him, helped Linlithgow secure the victory that means Tommy senior can chew his nails to the quick watching his offspring in the Emirates Scottish Junior Cup final against Largs Thistle at Rugby Park this afternoon.
The venue is significant for Tommy junior. He was on the Kilmarnock books for four years without making the breakthrough, before unprofitable spells with Stirling Albion, Dumbarton and Albion Rovers encouraged him to go junior. The prospect of a regular game appealed. Given it by Linlithgow manager Dave Baikie, he has produced form of which his dad would have been proud with 27 goals – in a season that could run to a further nine games after today's occasion.
"He has found a consistency in his game that he maybe struggled for before," says Tommy senior. "There has been that wee bit more belief in him, and deep down, that is what we all need."
The unassuming, thoroughly decent Tommy senior probably needed that same encouragement in his playing days.
It wasn't always forthcoming at Dundee United or Celtic, but he certainly found it in his early days at Clydebank, at Dundee and when he moved to Motherwell in 1993, at the age of 31.
"I loved those times; I went to all the games, home and away, and that was probably the best football I saw him play," says Tommy junior of his dad's spell at Fir Park.
For his father's part, he says it is hard for him to pick the high points of his career. It is typical of Coyne that he rates those free-scoring days at Kilbowie on a par with playing three games in the World Cup finals '94 when he helped Ireland into the last 16.
Mind you, he can't help having special relish for the Scottish Cup winner against Rangers for Celtic in February 1990. He just enjoyed playing and scoring goals, but was never fixated about football in a manner that made him want sons Tommy, Justin 19, or Bradley 17 – a striker with St Mirren's youth side – to follow him, or to the extent he goes on about the old days to six-year-old son Mitchell and four-year-old daughter Stelli.
"Not that I ever would, but you can't push your children these days," Tommy senior says. "They have to want to do something. They have to be determined. And lucky, as you have to be in all things in life.
"It just so happens that Tommy and Bradley play football. Justin goes to university and does forensic science and is a low handicap golfer. He's not that interested in football.
"They all go their own way and the only thing I want for them is to be happy. They don't see me as a footballer. They seem me as dad. I think that's a good thing. And when it comes to Tommy and Justin, they don't take my advice. I go to see them whenever I can but I worry about being too critical with the younger one."
On-field action shots of the young Tommy would appear to show a striking likeness with his pop. A suggestion at which the two balk.
"I don't see it at all," says senior.
"I'm better looking than him, I get my looks from my mum," says junior.
Mention of the mother – Alison – he lost in tragic circumstances in 1993 when she was just 29 and he was six, is to be made aware of one matter of overriding importance when it comes to his upbringing and that of his siblings.
Patently very close to their dad, they believe Tommy Coyne the footballer is to be admired more for what he achieved off the field than on it.
"It wasn't easy for him but he came through and my step-mum Anita has helped enormously," Tommy junior says. "I couldn't say if what happened brought us closer.
"He was our dad and the relationship we have with him is all we've known."
The articulate and mannerly Tommy junior takes a similar insightful view to carrying the "son of a famous footballer" burden. The question of whether this has made it more difficult or otherwise in the game for him has little relevance.
"If people have expectations of me, I can't do anything about that," he says. "I can't know if it has made any difference to me because I've never been in any other position. I can only go out and play to the best of my abilities and succeed or fail on those."
He is annoyed at himself that, as a youngster, he perhaps didn't always do that. "I'm just like any other son, when I was a certain age I didn't want to be told by my elders. But I look back now and think if I had taken a bit more on board from my dad I might be playing higher up than I am right now. It is no disrespect to Linlithgow but I know I am capable of doing that and still think I will. I have a year-and-a-bit left on my contract but if nothing comes up in that time, I'll be delighted to see it out."
Currently residing with his paternal grandfather – also Tommy – in the Crookston area of Glasgow he does not know what the future holds, except for one certainty. "My dad says I was named after him just as he was named after his dad. Well, if I have any kids and they're boys, none of them is going to be called Tommy."
The youngest member of the Coyne clan to be given that moniker admits that it shook him when he was released by Kilmarnock in 2007, having graduated to the reserves from youths with the club. "By that time, I had thought for a while my future was in full-time football, so for a bit after that, I would do nothing during the day, training a couple of nights, then play on the Saturday.
"It wasn't healthy, but I was in denial about having to get a job. I was still thinking football was that, and would be again. I started working in the USC store in Glasgow two-and-a-half years ago, and I'm enjoying my way of life now."
Tomorrow will mark his first return to Rugby Park since he was freed. "I'm glad the way it has worked out. It will be good to see a lot of faces again. I loved every minute of my time there and did pretty well any time I played with the reserves. I wish I had put a wee bit more into it but felt such pressure then for some reason, and it's only now I'm relaxed about my game."
Dad, he says, always told his sons to be strikers because they were the guys "who got all the glory". Sometimes not the breaks, though. Tommy senior's management career never really took off. He had early success as player-manager with Clydebank. He quickly earned a manager of the month award but was sacrificed when the club plunged into administration the next year.
"Maybe that award raised false promise," he says ruefully. He later had a couple of seasons in charge of Bellshill Athletic but has not been involved in football since 2005, and now rents out properties for a living. I do miss football but, in terms of the juniors, you really had to devote an awful lot of time, put in a lot of unsociable hours, to make it work. I have two very young children in Mitchell and Stelli and they have first claim on my time.
"I would rather have them in my life in that way than football."