Roar's rising star shaped by the Land of the Rising Sun
You’re in the tunnel ready to make your home A-League debut for Brisbane Roar. You’re a bit nervous. You can hear the fans. There are TV cameras around you.
Players are yelling and pumping themselves up. This is it.
This is what you trained for all pre-season. All your life. You’ve got your chance to make your home debut in the league.
And as you turn around, you see Massimo Maccarone.
He doesn’t look quite as nervous but he’s ready, focused and calm.
The vastly experienced Italian international edges closer to the Roar rookie and this exchange followed.
“He asked if it was my second game in the A-League and I said it was.
"He told me it would be his 667th!” recalls Roar defender Connor O’Toole, with a laugh.
“It was like, ‘wow’. It was pretty crazy.
“Before and during the game he came up to me a lot and told me not to worry because I had plenty of good players around me and to play without any fear.
“That helped a lot as a young player and it took a lot of pressure off.”
It must have worked.
O’Toole, 20, an Australian youth international, had a composed and mature performance in last Friday's 3-1 win over Melbourne City, one that earned him a spot in the www.a-league.com.au team of the week for Round 7.
It says a lot about Brisbane Roar that their younger players a) get a chance and b) have a wealth of knowledge around them to draw on.
Not just Maccarone, but Matt McKay, Brett Holman and Jado North – not to mention the legendary Thomas Broich last year.
Surely it has to be the most sought-after workplace for football talent to blossom in Australia?
O’Toole explains further.
“It gives me a lot of confidence having a defender like Avraam [Papadopoulos] behind me. He doesn't speak too much but leads by his actions.
"You just watch him play and he's one-hundred percent into everything. Once you see that, you've got no excuse not to do it yourself.
“Matty McKay is very similar - everything is at one-hundred percent. He's always there on time; he's always leading the boys.
“There are a lot of boys in our changing room who lead by example.
“You saw the rise of Joey Caletti last season and he said the older boys made it really easy for him in his first few games, getting him on the ball to settle his nerves and things like that.
“I guess us young players have been able to improve ourselves quite drastically.”
O’Toole made his senior debut in the Asian Champions League earlier this year in Thailand and made his A-League debut against Melbourne Victory – Bes Berisha and all – earlier this season.
But O’Toole’s Roar rise is only half the story.
His middle name – Kazuki – speaks of his heritage and perhaps determination too.
You see, O’Toole did something unique when he was 15.
Far from staying in a comfort zone in Australia he went overseas.
To Japan – the land of his mother’s birth – on his own, too, to better himself as a footballer.
And as it turned out, it was the same high school that Socceroo Jason Davidson attended in 2005.
Davidson’s father Alan was a decorated national team player of the 1980s who also had Japanese heritage.
The Seiritsu Gakuen High Schoo in Tokyo was the place. Another Australian Jeremy Carpenter, brother of Matildas rising star Ellie, also attended the school.
It toughened up Davidson. And it toughened up O’Toole.
It taught him discipline... the hard way.
“The work ethic you pick up there is unrivalled I think.
“I was at the point where I really wanted to become a professional footballer and at that time it seemed like the right option.
“When someone in the team makes a mistake, the whole team has to shave their heads.
“I did it twice in my three years there. When you know the whole team is going to be punished, you're a lot more careful with how you prepare and you make sure everything is done correctly.
“It definitely teaches you not to make the same mistake twice! Moving there taught me that you have to take risks.
“Going there at 15 years old wasn't the mainstream thing to do. There's a lot of determination in some of the Japanese players.
“When you speak to them they're quite timid and quiet, but once you're on that football field, it's a different mindset.
“I was talking to Jade North about his time in the J-League [formerly of Consadole Sapporo] and he made it sound quite good.
“I'm happy at Brisbane, but if things go well in the future it [the J-league] could be an option.”
O’Toole missed his family while in Tokyo.
That’s’ why when he gets time now, he makes up for it.
He heads back home to Sydney and sees his Irish-born Dad when he can. They go fishing.
A simple thing. One between father and son; one that gives him strength.
Perhaps to make it to 677 games one day.