I was 15 years old when Everton signed Tim Cahill from Millwall in July 2004. I remember being sat in an internet café in Florida on a summer holiday, sending long and ultimately hopeless emails to my first girlfriend.
It was the summer of discontent at Everton, with boardroom wrangles casting the club in a very poor light. One day the news came up on the screen that Everton had replaced Tomasz Radzinski with Tim Cahill. Then the timer ran out. I told my Dad and we both semi-shrugged. Little did we know...
The girl eventually gave up on me, but Tim Cahill never did.
There were times when I nearly gave up on him, though. Seven-and-a-half years on, in January 2012, I began writing a blog willing Everton to sell Cahill while I still considered him a hero, talisman and icon. After one hundred words of reasoned argument, I deleted the whole thing because I couldn't bring myself to write it. I had spent my childhood worshipping Duncan Ferguson and my teenage years worshipping Tim Cahill - nobody wants to admit that their hero should hang up his cape.
Now it looks as though the time has come, here's everything I wanted to say:
From the overhead kick against Chelsea to those goals at Anfield and the finish against Newcastle that pretty much sealed Champions League qualification, Tim Cahill is an Everton legend of my era. He's not decorated like the Holy Trinity, he's not a record breaker like Dixie Dean and he's not the twinkle-toes of Alan Ball, but believe me, Tim Cahill is Everton, the same way each of those players are. With history written by the victors, it can be easy to overlook heroism during times of scant success - but that is not to say it is not present. Like Ferguson before him, Cahill gave young Everton fans something to cling on to.
Cahill began with the leaps, the 1-0's and the biting of the shirt that soon became the punching of the corner flag. Day One saw a winner at Eastlands on his debut and a ridiculous red card. The pundits soon asked "How can you possibly mark Tim Cahill?" He would arrive late in to the area from nowhere, with a trademark spring and a thunderbolt header. Corner kicks were never the same again, and sometimes you just knew that the shadow boxing celebration was imminent. When 4-4-2 was still in fashion, Cahill became the first 1 in the 4-4-1-1.
Not only that, but he typified everything good about Everton under David Moyes. He grafted, he battled, he kicked and he tackled. He couldn't thread a through ball and his slide tackles usually arrived a few seconds too late, but he was an absolute machine, an absolute nuisance. Tim Cahill wasn't silky, anything but, but his passion shone through and he always seemed to score when it really mattered.
After six or seven years I guess things began to change. Arteta and Pienaar continued to pull the strings but the "Cahill role" seemed to have outgrown TC. Everton's style of football had outgrown him too, sadly. Too many times a below par or injured Cahill was left on the pitch in the hope he would 'nick one'. Too many times teammates would see the move break down when it reached the talisman.
There were still big moments right up to the end, such as Sunderland away in the FA Cup Quarter Final replay, when the Kangaroo tore around the pitch like a pitbull. Sadly, the goals had dried up and people rightly observed that if Cahill wasn't scoring, nine times out of ten he was no longer worthy of a starting spot.
There were evenings in the first half of last season on the seventy-mile journey home from Goodison Park when I willed for Cahill to be dropped. Afterwards, I always felt a touch of regret. Like every Evertonian, I wanted him to be remembered for all the things that he brought to the club rather than the fact he no could no longer supply them.
Was it the injuries? That ill-advised trip to the Asia Cup? Too many journeys around the world to play for Australia? Surely he can't be blamed for taking pride in playing for his country. After all, he is an icon for his Australia too, with an excellent 24 goals in 55 games.
In truth, it doesn't matter why Tim Cahill ceased to be the force he once was. It does matter that the Everton hero of this generation has left the club at the right time and with grace, dignity and respect - the same characteristics he showed throughout his time at Goodison Park.
Tim Cahill leaving Everton is not a tragedy; but it is the end of an era. He might not be your Dad's or your Uncle's hero, but he might just be your son's, your little brother's or even yours...
All the best, Tim. Corner flags won't be the same without you.
8 years. 278 games. 68 goals.