IT’S a bit of a shock to realise that I won my first championship almost half my lifetime ago. I was barely 20 when Sydney Olympic won the NSL in 2002 and I think I took it for granted a little bit. I just thought: This is normal and this happens all the time.
Then of course you start to realise how difficult it is just to get to the grand final, let alone win it. So six years later, as a relatively senior pro at Newcastle Jets, I made sure that I enjoyed every moment when we qualified to face the Mariners in 2008.
I tried to make sure that the young boys we had in the squad enjoyed it too – to enjoy all the hype and the media that comes with it, and enjoy the attention. Don't shy away from it, don't go missing, but embrace it because actually grand finals don't come around often.
I still get goosebumps remembering how the fans saw us off Adamstown Stadium and followed us all the way down the highway to Sydney for the game. We were so proud to win the trophy for them. It was a special day, in part because we had a special group of players. It’s an interesting question, what creates the alchemy which can lead a team to success – certainly our mix of experienced players and young boys was pretty potent.
We had some really good kids like Stuart Musialik, Mark Bridge, Tarek Elrich and Adam D’Apuzzo, all hungry to be successful. They listened to everything we told them, were really respectful, and just wanted to learn. As a group we were living in Newcastle, it's a small town and we were always together, we'd have lunches together and hang out together.
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We just had a really strong bond and that goes a long way to winning championships. There's tactics and a lot of other things involved in in winning stuff, but camaraderie amongst your teammates and friendship group can take you to great heights.
Maybe I enjoyed it all the more because of the negative times I had gone through – two broken legs, and bizarrely being shot as a teenager during a trial.
It's pretty crazy that I can still be kicking around at 39. For me what was crucial was that I had good advice. I think I had really sound people around me: my parents were a fantastic support and my wife too during the difficult times.
Every young player needs to know there's going to be dark moments – it’s how you respond that is crucial. My broken legs were really, really dark moments for me, but I had good support around me. So now, as I hang up my boots, there's not many things that I can say I wish I'd done better. I'm pretty content and happy with how my career panned out.
That’s why I hope all the young boys involved in the finals enjoy every moment – and are determined to keep pushing on to get everything they can out of a wonderful career in professional football.
- Andrew Durante made more than 400 senior appearances for clubs including Sydney Olympic, Wellington Phoenix and Western United, and won the A-League with Newcastle Jets in 2008.'
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