Seven months after playing for Moreton Bay United in Australia's National Premier League the waiting game was finally over when Josh Brindell-South made his debut for the Wellington Phoenix in Newcastle on Sunday.
The Phoenix's 3-2 victory over the Jets at Hunter Stadium also qualified as a belated 21st present - and offered proof he might eventually come of age as a versatile defender.
Signed by the Phoenix on a one-year deal last July, Brindell-South had been confined to the training field until Michael Boxall picked up his fifth yellow card against Adelaide United and Albert Riera injured his groin shortly before the team left for a round 18 clash that culminated in them climbing into the playoff bracket.
Coach Ernie Merrick had been considering using Reece Caira at left back and moving Manny Muscat to the right edge of the back four, but when Riera broke down Caira was co-opted to shore up a depleted midfield.
Merrick said he had no qualms about debuting the Queenslander - he was clearly lacking game-day experience because the Phoenix do not have a reserve team, but Brindell-South's work ethic at practice ensured mum Kathy and older brother Jay travelled from Brisbane to Newcastle at short notice.
"I'm a great believer that training performance is very important, if they're not performing in training then they're not going to get a chance," Merrick said, before detailing Brindell-South's recent exploits.
"We use GPS to measure volume of work. We have hard sessions, we measure metres per minute as intensity and average it out.
"Josh set a record at the club for the number of kilometres covered and metres per minute."
Inevitably the rookie also got the runaround at times during a challenging 65-minute initiation that would have gone the distance had he not cramped up.
Newcastle's goalscorer Craig Goodwin outfoxed Brindell-South before bending a second equaliser past Glenn Moss and was a constant nuisance for an inexperienced marker.
But Merrick, a former defender, was willing to let that slide and praised the latest example of the club's growing depth.
"I thought Josh was terrific, very composed. Technically he's very good, he plays that one-touch ball game. He's absolutely determined to do well."
Brindell-South also gave himself a cautious pass mark but realised there was plenty to work on if, and when, he gets another opportunity now Boxall is available again.
"I've been training well with the lads and I slipped in pretty easy I felt," he said.
"I wasn't as nervous as I expected. I had good preparation all week. I felt confident in myself that I could do the job. I just ran out of legs towards the end.
"I felt I got forward," he said, and rightly so given he nudged in a teasing cross to Stein Huysegems after just two minutes.
"I can get a bit better in my positioning. I can improve in many areas, that's what Ernie's there to help with."
On the pitch he had experienced centre backs Ben Sigmund and captain Andrew Durante to lean on and the All Whites duo made their presence felt.
"They were unbelievable. They're the reason I got through the game back there. They're on your back no matter what. They'll be telling you where to be, that's all you can ask for."
Brindell-South even received a not-so-gentle helping hand from Newcastle captain Ruben Zadkovich, who hauled him to his feet after he cramped up for a second time before an unsympathetic crowd.
"There's no hard feelings. I went down injured and he wanted to get the game going," Brindell-South shrugged, like a seasoned pro.
"They were behind, you expect that kind of thing from opposing teams."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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