Devastated by his Olympic omission, Luke Rowe was contemplating a career outside of football only four months ago.
Despite a standout season for Team Wellington, the promising left back was ranked behind Ian Hogg in the eyes of Oly-Whites coach Neil Emblen.
Rowe instead watched the Olympics on TV with his family in Coventry before making the decision to return to New Zealand to join the Wellington Phoenix's newly created academy.
The 20-year-old's perseverance will pay off with a start at left back for the under-strength Phoenix against the Heart in Melbourne on Sunday.
"Yeah, that really hurt me. I knew it was going to be close between me and Hoggy but it really put me on a downer for a couple of months," Rowe said.
"But going home and seeing my family, they picked me up, dusted me off and told me if I want to do it, don't let anybody stop you.
"I didn't know what I was going to do this year. I had to really give it a good think about what I was going to do with my life but coming in here has been like a breath of fresh air."
Rowe missed out on one of the club's three professional under-21 contracts that are held by Louis Fenton, Cameron Lindsay and Tyler Boyd.
But the England-born player - along with Hogg - represents the future of New Zealand left backs once All Whites veteran Tony Lochhead hangs up his boots.
A good athlete, Rowe is a specialist in the position and also has a pedigree.
With an English mother and a Maori father, Rowe was scouted by Birmingham City at the age of 13 and racked up "30 to 40" games for the club's reserve team before moving to New Zealand to chase his Olympic dream.
"Playing reserve games, you play against some of the best players in the Premier League so it was a great experience for me and I learnt so much there.
"But it didn't quite work out for me over there so coming here has given me a second chance. Hopefully at the weekend I can take it."
Fenton's sensational debut against Sydney FC in round one has given the Phoenix's youngsters confidence they can follow suit.
Rowe and Lindsay - set to start at right back - will have their hands full against speedy Heart wingers David Williams and Mate Dugandzic.
Minus seven internationals and their coach, the bookies don't like the Phoenix's chances but Rowe is determined to savour the experience at AAMI Park.
"I've had so many ups and downs, it really does push you to the limit, football. I think this weekend I'll realise why I started playing it when I was a young kid.
"Louis is such a good guy. I've known him for nearly two years now so I couldn't be happier for him. I think that's the thing with all the young lads, we genuinely want each other to do well."
Rowe will play outside Phoenix captain Andrew Durante and planned to listen to his skippers' instructions and ease into his work for the first 15 minutes or so.
All going well, he would then look to showcase his abilities going forward in what will be "by far" the biggest and most nerve-racking game of his career.
"To play against big teams in front of big crowds, I'm really excited.
"It's taking me a while to get to sleep."
- The Dominion Post
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