I had been preparing for this moment all my life.
I didn’t know if it was ever going to come, but if it never happened I wasn’t going to give the man in the mirror the chance to tell me I’d blown it.
To be a member of one of the most successful A-League sides in history is an incredible feeling when I stop and think about my journey to get here. I’ve been the guy other clubs didn’t always want to stick with. I was a second- or third-choice keeper.
Sometimes I’ve been passed over and moved on to other clubs, and other times I’ve made my own decision to leave to try and kick-start my career.
I made my A-League debut a decade ago, but only played five games over my first four years with the Mariners and Roar. It was tough competing with Danny Vukovic at the Mariners and Michael Theo at the Roar.
I then spent time with Melbourne City and the Wanderers. I got chances at both clubs, but it didn’t work out for me in the long-term at either, and next I landed at Sydney FC.
That’s half the clubs in the league.
I’m not going to lie and say there weren’t hard times, even dark times, when I endured those setbacks, rejection and disappointment. I’ve asked myself, ‘Is this really for me? Is this the right career path? Is it really what I want to do with my life?’
The answer, for me, has always come back ‘yes’. I’ve never lost that belief in my own ability even when others might have.
I could have held back a bit when I joined Sydney FC, maybe taken the view that Vuka had the goalkeeping position all wrapped up so why break my back at training just to sit on the bench.
But how dumb would that have been?
If I’d done that, I wouldn’t be getting ready to start in an Asian Champions League game in China. I wouldn’t have been part of an FFA Cup-winning team. I wouldn’t have played every game this season for a side that is chasing the A-League premiership and championship double.
I’d still be sitting on the bench after Vuka got the chance to play overseas. The club would have got another keeper in over the top of me, for sure.
Had Graham Arnold felt I wasn’t the right man to be his number one at the Sky Blues, so be it. But it wasn’t going to be because I hadn’t put in.
That’s never been me.
THE BIG OPPORTUNITY
It was Clint Bolton who helped me get a fresh start at the Wanderers after Melbourne City.
I had a year to run on my contract at City, but they said they were going to buy an experienced overseas goalkeeper and that I wouldn’t be the number two either, so if I decided to stick around I’d be way down the pecking order. They said I could move on if I wanted.
I wasn’t actively searching for a club - I didn’t have an agent at the time - but Clint, who had retired, had become quite a close friend and I told him my situation.
I went on a surfing holiday with a mate down the NSW south coast and my phone rang from a number I didn’t know. I answered and it was Spider Kalac, the goalkeeping coach at the Wanderers. He said Bootsa had told him what happened and that he’d love to have me at the Wanderers.
That season, 2015-16, was a pretty successful one for me. I got dropped late in the season for Liam Reddy, but I got back in for the finals and we made the grand final against Adelaide United. We lost, but it was still an amazing experience.
I started the following season as first-choice keeper, but then I was dropped for Jerrad Tyson and in January last year the opportunity to move to Sydney FC presented itself.
I knew my time at the Wanderers had expired. I’d been to enough clubs to get a feel for how things worked. The club didn’t want me anymore and I knew Vedran Janjetovic was coming from Sydney FC, but I was treated with dignity on the way out. There was no animosity and I still get on with my old coach, Tony Popovic, and Spider.
I’m not going to lie and say there weren’t hard times. I’ve asked myself, ‘Is this really for me? Is this the right career path? Is it really what I want to do with my life?’
Vuka was in the middle of a stellar season when I joined Sydney FC. The whole team was. You’ve always got to think you’re going to knock the existing keeper out of his spot - you’ve got to believe that - but I was under no illusions.
Unless Vuka went away with the Socceroos, or got injured or suspended, it was going to be incredibly hard to get a look-in.
The football environment is a constantly evolving one - I know that only too well from experience - and that’s why you’ve got to adopt the attitude that things might change. And if things do change, you’ve got to be ready.
I did get one game against Perth Glory when Vuka was away with the Socceroos. It was fantastic to play a small part in the on-field success Sydney had last season. But it was also amazing to share in it as a member of the squad.
ARNIE the man-manager
Vuka was contracted again here for this season, but then he got that shot he craved with Genk in Belgium. I was ecstatic for him. After the season he’d had, and following the health battle his little boy, Harley, had endured, the family deserved a break like that.
I couldn’t be sure what would happen at Sydney FC after that. I knew they had to get another keeper and Arnie let me in on who they were talking to.
My job was to just keep going. Keep hammering away at training. Treat every day as a trial.
The early rounds of the FFA Cup were coming up and the club chases hard for every trophy. That was when Arnie said to me, ‘You’re going to get first crack and if you perform it’s yours, but you’ve got to keep performing’.
That was all I needed to hear.
Had Graham Arnold felt I wasn’t the right man to be his number one at the Sky Blues, so be it. But it wasn’t going to be because I hadn’t put in. That’s never been me.
It wasn’t something I felt daunted by. I felt ready and confident going into games and I have done all season so far. But I don’t take anything for granted. I know the team is picked on form and that if I’m not in form, I’ve got a problem.
Arnie is a great man-manager. You can approach him at any time and he’ll give you honest feedback. He told me he’s always admired me as a goalkeeper and wanted me to be the best in the A-League. He believes I’m capable of that.
That sort of confidence and belief from my coach is all I need.
There have been plenty of critics wanting to stick knives in my back and try to bring me down during my career. Social media gives a lot of these people a platform, but I’ve learnt what I’ve got to focus on.
The support I’ve been shown by Arnie and everyone on the staff at Sydney FC has helped me shut out the noise.
NEVER WALK AWAY
I’ve finally reached the stage where some of my biggest career goals are within reach.
I sat on the bench when the Roar won two grand finals. Now I’m aiming to play every game with Sydney and win the premiership, and then the grand final.
I was involved in two Asian Champions League campaigns, with the Mariners and Roar, but I sat on the bench the whole time. Now I’m playing in the ACL with the Sky Blues – and determined to do everything I can against Shanghai Shenhua in China on Wednesday after the disappointment of our loss at home to Suwon Bluewings last week.
I’ve got a list of my goals written on a piece of paper I keep inside my phone cover. One of those is to play for the Socceroos. Any Australian player who doesn’t have that ambition would have to be crazy.
I’ve been in and out of teams all my A-League career. There were times when I thought I finally had that hold on the first-choice goalkeeping position, but it didn’t work out long-term.
I’d eventually get dropped, or they would go looking for another goalkeeper at season’s end.
What I resolved to do was never walk away or stop trying. I see myself as a lifetime learner. I’m not one for showboating or self-promotion. I like to work hard and continually improve.
I’ve got a list of my goals written on a piece of paper. One of those is to play for the Socceroos. Any Australian player who doesn’t have that ambition would have to be crazy.
I’ve never fallen out of love with the game, even when it seemed like the game had fallen out of love with me.
I’m 29. There’s still a lot of improvement in me as a goalkeeper and I plan to realise every bit of that. I’ve got a two-year contract, but contracts are just a piece of paper if you don’t keep aiming up. I approach every day like I’ve got to perform or else.
I’m getting married in June. I met my fiancee, Caitlin, while I was playing in Melbourne.
This is shaping up as the biggest year of my life, on and off the field. The opportunity is there for me to capitalise. I’d be a fool to not do all I can to grasp it.
JOHN, BOZZA & VUKA
I want to be a role model because I’ve learnt the value of role models. I’ve had some great ones.
Sydney FC goalkeeping coach John Crawley, who I’ve known since when I was going to the NSW Institute of Sport as a schoolboy and at the Mariners, has been a huge influence. His way of thinking is different. It’s not, ‘Let’s open the textbook and this is what we need to do’.
He looks at a goalkeeper’s strengths and weaknesses and designs specialised drills for him that even he hasn’t conceived until he’s made his assessment.
That’s really taking it to another level. It’s why he’s got such a great reputation for taking goalkeepers and making them better.
Vuka, since back in our Mariners days together, has also been massive for me, as has Mark Bosnich, who made a comeback at the Mariners while Vuka was serving a suspension.
Bozza and I got on really well. Goalkeepers aren’t joking when they talk about the goalkeepers’ union. Bozza and I talked a lot about philosophies and techniques and experiences in game situations. It was a fantastic learning curve working alongside him.
Ange Postecoglou and Michael Theo, the coach and goalkeeper at Brisbane Roar when I was there, left their mark on me and so did Clint Bolton, the goalkeeper at Melbourne Heart when I joined there. John Aloisi, my coach at the Heart, was a significant figure in my career as well.
You’ve got to listen to what they say and watch what they do. Otherwise, the opportunity to learn might be lost on you.
Andrew Redmayne - Contributor