At the beginning of this season, Michael McGlinchey had a claim to being the A-League's most underrated player. In equal part reliable and talented, he was a widely respected cog in the Central Coast Mariners' machine.
Weeks out from the end of this season, however, and McGlinchey can't be underrated any longer, having emerged as one of the A-League's best players. Top 10 in the competition? Absolutely. Top five? Maybe. On form? Even higher.
In fact, while the season's most lauded pair, Sydney's Alessandro Del Piero and Melbourne Victory's Marco Rojas, draw their admiration for defying their respective ages, it's McGlinchey who has them both covered for consistency.
If he wasn't tied to New Zealand, he'd be a capped Socceroo. The Scottish national side - which he represented at under-20 level - would surely be keen on him.
Again, he's probably the latest victim of operating in the vacuum of hyperbole on the Central Coast. Out of sight, out of mind for most A-League observers. Not so for his coach, Graham Arnold. He sees the five-foot-nine pocket rocket every day and has been left dazzled by McGlinchey's exploits.
"Mikey is phenomenal. Everything he does blows me away. His ability to perform at such a high level week in, week out, I've not seen anything like it," he said. "He's the complete player."
McGlinchey's six-goal, six-assist haul for the season only tells half the story. He has a claim for being the most energetic and versatile player in the A-League's best team. His passes are incisive, often defence-splitting. His ball control? On par with the recently departed Tom Rogic.
Heading into arguably the most anticipated regular-season A-League match of the season against Western Sydney at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday night, McGlinchey is the man the Mariners will be leaning on more than any other. He can't wait to put himself in the thick of the action.
"Most of the lads at training were talking about it and they can't wait. Tickets are selling fast and the buzz around town is huge," he said. "As a player, you live to play in these matches. They've been fantastic under Tony Popovic and it's going to be an interesting game."
The reason for the Wellington-born, Glasgow-raised midfielder's rapid improvement this season is rather simple, according to the player himself.
"The change in formation has been great for me. In the first two seasons, we played a midfield diamond, and I was on the right and didn't get so many opportunities around goal," he said. "But this season I've spent time as a number 10, outside left and outside right, all quite attacking roles, and that's allowed me to get more in the box and be involved in more attacking opportunities."
It's not surprising to learn then that he can't pinpoint his favourite position. "When I was younger I used to like playing certain positions but I'm no longer bothered where I am," he said. "Wide left or wide right are both good - even up front I enjoy. I can't even tell you where I'll be playing this Saturday. I could end up anywhere. As long as I'm playing, I'm happy enough."
Some may argue Rogic's departure has been good for McGlinchey, who has taken the onus of creativity on himself in the past two months. Perhaps the football gods have a sense of equality after all: developed by the Celtic, McGlinchey now calls Central Coast home - a path reverse to that trod by Rogic.
Regardless of which club has come out of top, both players have benefited enormously from the tutelage of Arnold.
"I can't speak highly enough of Arnie. It's not just his coaching, it's his whole man-management as well," McGlinchey said. "He knows how to get the best out of all his players and certainly he's gotten the best out of me. He gives me all the confidence in the world to attack players and when you get that backing from a manager, it's a lot easier to try things. He's been brilliant for my development as a player."
Interest in McGlinchey has abounded from across the A-League and beyond in recent times - not least from Saturday's opponents.
In a move that riled the Mariners' hierarchy no end, the FFA-owned Wanderers bid aggressively for McGlinchey's services, leaving Central Coast to increase their offer to prevent their Kiwi star from leaving.
Though McGlinchey eventually signed for another two years, he'll be a target for the big-spending Asian and European clubs in coming months and he's open to the idea of further testing himself.
"I'm 26 now, so the time will come pretty soon where, if I'm going to try my luck in Asia or Europe, I'll have to think about making the move," he said. "Obviously I'm very happy here for the moment, but every player wants to play at the highest level. I'd definitely like to see how I go."
- Sydney Morning Herald
How well will the Phoenix do in this year's A-League?