Denis Genreau, Connor Metcalfe and Ruon Tongyik – caps 610, 611 and 612 – buzzing after inernational debuts

Beneficiaries of trust from their coaches and the proliferation of opportunities in the A-League in 2020-21, Socceroos’ debutants Denis Genreau, Connor Metcalfe and Ruon Tongyik can scarcely contain the pride that has accompanied their international debuts.

Starting next to Kenny Dougall at the base of the Socceroos’ midfield, Genreau became the 610th player to play for the Socceroos in Tuesday morning’s 5-1 win against Taiwan, with Metcalfe becoming cap 611 when he replaced Dougall in the 64th minute and Tongyik securing cap 612 when he replaced Genreau in the 86th. 

Part of a highly inexperienced side that lined up against the Asian minnows — captain Trent Sainsbury, with 48, possessing more caps than the rest of the starting XI combined — Genreau did little to shame himself in his senior international debut. 

The 22-year-old displayed poise and control during his frequent spells of possession and played a key role in the build-up of Australia’s fourth goal – their first from open-play since they returned to action. 

“It’s a massive honour. I’m really, really happy that I got given the opportunity and it’s a massive honour to represent my country,” he said. 

“It’s a massive credit to the coaching staff at Macarthur and all the players there as well. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today. 

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“[I felt] very comfortable [in possession], the coaching staff gave me a lot of confidence, the players gave me a lot of confidence and it felt pretty comfortable.

“Everything is a learning experience at the moment. To come into camp and learn off the older boys. Tonight’s another learning experience for me and the team and I’m really looking forward to what the future holds.”

Undoubtedly, Ante Miličić, who coached Genreau at a junior international level prior to recruiting him from Melbourne City, and his staff at Macarthur FC played a significant role in the Parisian-born midfielder earning his senior international debut.

Prior to his departure to join the national team, the youngster has logged 1893 minutes in the Bulls’ midfield in 2020-21, almost doubling the number he had seen at club level since debuting for City during the 2016-17 season. 

Metcalfe, a former teammate of Genreau at City, is another example of a wave of prospects that have received extended scope at club level for the first time in 2020-21 — something Graham Arnold is desperate to see expanded. 

The 21-year-old, who became the first born-and-bred Novocastrian to debut for the Socceroos since Robbie Middleby in 2002, more than doubled his previous sum of professional minutes for Patrick Kisnorbo’s side in 2020-21: adding 2178 minutes to his previous total of 1262. 

But though even though he’s seized his newfound opportunities with aplomb and trained with a bevy of Socceroos in Bundoora — including current call-ups Jamie Maclaren and Curtis Good — Metcalfe has still been taken aback at receiving the chance to take part in a Socceroos’ camp. 

“You watch them play on the telly [but] then you get to see them train and see how actually sharp and fast and good all the players are,” Metcalfe said. “I sort of question myself — am I going to be able to train with these players?

“Once I started training they were all encouraging and positive and they pushed me and I could always hear their voices saying ‘c’mon Connor, you’re doing well’ and things like that so it’s been good so far. 

“[Arnold] let me know [he would be playing] about three days before the game. He said ‘get excited, you’re going to come on, you’re going to play.

“So, a pretty proud moment. 

“[After the game] I’d couldn’t really sleep much, just realising what I’d just done. It was surreal. It’s all surreal.”

Slightly older than Genreau and Metcalfe at 24-years-old, Tongyik has nonetheless also benefited from added scope and belief from his coach at the club level; previously bouncing around Adelaide United, City, Western Sydney Wanderers and Brisbane Roar, before finding a home under Alen Stajčić at the Central Coast Mariners.

He made 23 starts in Gosford prior to his departure for international duty this season, putting together a campaign that saw Arnold label him as “the standout centre-back in the A-League”. 

Lampshading the unexpected nature of his rise, when word of his call-up was delivered to the Mariners, the club initially thought it was a mistaken call-up for the Olyroos — Tongyik is four days too old for selection for Tokyo 2020 — before being informed that it was in, in fact, for the seniors. 

But while it may have come slightly earlier than he would have anticipated, the defender himself never had any doubts that he would end up pulling on a Socceroos’ jersey. He even turned down a call-up from the South Sudanese national team at the start of the season so he could continue to pursue his goal. 

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“I’ve always had that in the back of my mind, I always had a feeling that one day I would be able to represent Australia,” he said. “I just didn’t know when it would be. When I did turn down the opportunity [to play for South Sudan], I just wanted to put my head down and keep working hard. It’s worked out in the best way possible. 

“Not at all [expecting a call-up so soon]. With the way that [the Mariners] were playing throughout the season, it was just fantastic to top it off and get the call-up.”

The defender, who has actually been training and made his debut with the Socceroos as a six, credits a lot of his call-up to the work of Stajčić and his staff, as well as the environment that has been fostered at the club that allowed him to thrive. 

“He’s been great throughout the season not just to me but all the boys,” Tongyik said. “The coaching style that he has and the belief that he has in all of us has really shaped how we’ve been throughout the season. 

“It was great to have a season where I’ve played almost every game. I’ve really enjoyed myself throughout the year. This is just a starting point. I’m really pleased and proud of myself. I couldn’t have done this without everyone at the club. 

“The coach, the players, it’s a very family orientated club, the community is very close to everyone. I think I just felt at home at the Mariners. I’ve really enjoyed being there. 

“The people are amazing. We have a very good group of boys. That’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed and I’m happy to be there. It’s gotten me to this position and without the club, I don’t think I’d be here.”

The Socceroos will next be in action when they take on Nepal at 2:00 am AEST on Saturday morning. 

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

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