His shadow looms large over the latest act of this venerable sporting saga, writes James Shield.
But Kevin McDonald will play a reluctant lead role.
Six weeks after joining Wolverhampton Wanderers from Sheffield United, the Scottish midfielder faces his former club for the first time when David Weir’s side arrive at Molineux tomorrow.
His presence lends an extra dose of intrigue to what is already an absorbing sub-plot given the two team’s respective positions in the League One table.
However, speaking ahead of the eagerly anticipated fixture, McDonald told The Star: “It’s not about me or any other single player for that matter. It’s about Wolves and Sheffield United.
“I’ve been here for nearly a month now and, in football, you move on quickly. You have to because you can’t lose your focus at all.
“None of the lads at Bramall Lane have mentioned it. I’ve got some great mates there still but they know what this is all about.
“Getting three points. That’s the aim.
“Nothing more. Nothing less.
“The only people who want to turn it into something else and drag up all that other stuff are those who aren’t actually going to be out there and involved in it.”
United and Wolves have met 107 times since Jack Adenbrooke’s side dashed the visitors hopes of lifting the FA Cup in 1892.
With 36 of those contests ending in stalemate, history suggests tomorrow’s meeting will be delicately poised.
Recent results, though, otherwise.
Weir’s squad travel south ranked 22nd and hoping to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat while Kenny Jackett’s side, having won six of their eight previous outings, are third.
Should United fail to achieve their objective, and McDonald is instrumental in orchestrating their demise, then old wounds inflicted by his controversial departure will be reopened.
“It was a difficult decision for me to leave Sheffield United at the time,” the 24-year-old, who left when Jackett activated a release clause in his contract, said. “Especially because I was really settled and had so many good mates. I don’t think there was anyone I didn’t like there or didn’t get on with.
“The other thing that made it really tough was the fact that I really liked working with the manager there and the way that he was going about things. I was really enjoying myself.
“People will read all sorts of things into the situation but, the truth is, I just wondered whether it was time for a change and a fresh challenge because I’d been with United for a while. It was nothing personal.
“Some folk will accept that and others won’t. I know that’s the case but I don’t have any regrets about it because I’ve settled here and things are going well.”
While Wolves have clearly discovered a winning formula, Weir recently acknowledged that his own search for a magic template continues.
“There’s been lots of changes,” he said. “That’s factual, not making excuses.
“You hear a lot of managers speak about that at all different levels and we have changed a lot of things in a relatively short period of time.”
Having praised the contributions made by new signings Marlon King and Ryan Hall during last weekend’s meeting with Preston North End, Weir could name an unchanged starting eleven for only the second time since his appointment in June.
“I’m surprised to see Sheffield United where they are,” McDonald conceded. “But, knowing the characters they’ve got there and the way the manager works, I definitely don’t think they are going to be in the same position come 15 or 20 games.
“The thing about this division is that it’s so unpredictable it’s untrue. I’ve been in it for a while now and so I know what it’s all about.
“There are teams people don’t think are any good because they don’t have the biggest profile or stature but, believe me, right across the board there are players at this level who can play.”
McDonald, as both Weir and Jackett acknowledge, is one of those.
“I don’t know what the reception will be for him but all I do know is he’s fully focused on Wolves now,” Jackett said. “I’m pleased he made the decision to join us and not stay at Sheffield.
“He felt it was the right move and the right time to move on for his progression in his career. I’m pleased he made that decision because he looks like he’s got a lot of class and he brings a lot of class to our midfield.
“His friendships will be rested and put to one side until after.”
Echoing those sentiments, McDonald said: “I still speak to lots of people at Sheffield United but, you know what it’s like even when you play football in the schoolyard as a kid, there’s always a little edge to it if you come up against your mates.
“If there is a ball to be won then you go into win it. You don’t have any time to think about who you are tackling.
“That doesn’t come into it at all. It won’t enter my mind and I know it won’t enter the minds of the United lads either.
“You play to win. You can be friends afterwards and get along. But during the match you’ve got to concentrate totally on what you are trying to do.”
United, who could resist the temptation to include Jamie Murphy in their squad despite his recovery from a groin complaint, know all about the threat posed by McDonald’s repertoire of tricks.
“We also know how they like to go about things too,” McDonald, who made nearly a century of appearances for United, countered. “We know they like to ball and try and do damage in those little pockets of space.
“I don’t care what anyone says. This is going to be a very difficult match because it’s against two sides with really good options.
“And, the same thing goes for both of us, we’ve got to get the ball down and earn the right to play. If we can do that, and impose ourselves, then I know we’ve got the players to do some damage by scoring goals.
“Equally, from what I’ve heard, United aren’t far away from getting going either.”