Palm Beach Sharks’ midfielder Justyn McKay knows what it’s like to have a nation of football fans watching him play in a big Cup game on TV.
In December 2006, in the English FA Cup 2nd Round, the then 19-year-old started in midfield for part-time Basingstoke away to full-timers Aldershot Town in a fiercely contested local derby.
What made this even more special was that it was broadcast on Saturday night TV show Match of the Day, an institution to millions of football viewers in the UK.
One of those viewers was proud mum Pauline.
Now, almost a decade later on the other side of the world, McKay is back on national TV, this time in the Westfield FFA Cup.
The feature game on Fox Sports next Wednesday night will be the Sharks hosting South Melbourne at Cbus Stadium in the opening night of the Round of 32 in the Westfield FFA Cup.
It brings back great memories of McKay’s English FA Cup adventure nine years ago.
“We’d beaten Chesterfield in a big shock in the first round. Then we drew Aldershot Town in the second round, who were our local rivals. And that was unbelievable,” McKay told www.theffacup.com.au.
“It was like a cauldron with the fans so close to the pitch with 5000 plus fans. I nearly scored! My friends and family were there so it was a real buzz and that game gave me the buzz to keep going [in football].”
Basingstoke drew 1-1 but lost the replay at home.
At 19, McKay was excited by it all: the lead up, the hype, the coverage and, in a way, it’s how many young players will be feeling next week in the Westfield FFA Cup as the national spotlight is turned on Australia’s local clubs.
For McKay this was a highpoint in the cut-throat UK football scene.
After joining Swindon Town as an eight-year-old he’d parted ways with the club by the age of 17 after spurning the chance of trialling for much bigger clubs on the understanding he’d play in the Robins’ first team.
One such club was Southampton. Who knows what may’ve happened to McKay’s career had he joined one of the most distinguished youth development systems in England.
He subsequently played for Bath City after Basingstoke and it was at City that the Gold Coast came into the equation.
McKay and a City teammate headed to the Glitter during the off-season in 2008. He was hooked and by 2010 McKay was back - and he’s been there ever since.
McKay loves the sunny, positive Coastal lifestyle; he’s one of the more experienced heads at the Sharks and he runs a popular football coaching business called Soccer X.
Now he has the chance to forge some more Cup dreams on the national stage.
And as fate would have it, Mum Pauline is visiting the Gold Coast this week. Needless to say, she’ll be cheering on McKay and the Sharks and is hopeful this time of a Cup win.
The Sharks won’t be parking the bus at Cbus – rather employing their trademark methodical style of play in coach Grae Piddock’s 4-3-3 system, where McKay plays as a number 8.
“Our success is based on being well-structured and organised. With Kristian [Rees] at the back we have a good foundation because he organises everything so we’re hard to break down,” said McKay.
“But we have a lot of energy with our young players and good on the counter. We’re not the side that’ll pass it for fun because we don’t have those sorts of players but we’ll go from back to front quickly. We play to our strengths. And we’re better when we are underdogs.”
And McKay’s eyes have been opened by Piddock; surely one of the most underrated coaches outside the Hyundai A-League.
“For the level we play, his professionalism, I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said of Piddock.
“Three nights a week it’s all structured towards the game. And on the days after our games he’s studying the opposition for the coming weekend,” said McKay, who played alongside former Brisbane Roar star Matt Smith before their moves to Queensland.
“We’ve got a lot of young lads but he seems to get the best out of them. He doesn’t hammer them, he gives them that little bit of confidence, and that goes a long way. It’s worked as we won the league last year and the quarters of the Cup.
“Myself and Kristian Rees who are the more senior players, you want to go and play for him [Piddock].
“Even at Swindon Town we didn’t have the structure in training and attention to detail that he’s got. It was all very generic over there back then.
“For me, as an up-and-coming coach I learn a lot from him.”
And after the Sharks’ incredible 13-12 win in a shootout against local rivals Broadbeach in the last round of the Westfield FFA Cup, this is a team that’s grabbing the headlines on the Gold Coast.
"I've never played in a game like that! It was draining to play and also to watch. We were dead on our feet."
So all eyes will be on Cbus stadium– surely one of the most impressive football stadia in Australia - next Wednesday night.
Even Manchester City officials were impressed with the venue after their clash with Melbourne City last Saturday night.
Now it’ll host one of the most intriguing Westfield FFA Cup clashes in the opening night feature match.
“I took my Mum and family who on holiday to Cbus to see the City game and they said, ‘So you’re playing here!
“And I told them, ‘yeah, I always play here!” retells McKay with a chuckle.
**Palm Beach SC will kick-off proceedings against South Melbourne at Cbus Stadium as the first match to be broadcast live and exclusive on Fox Sports on Wednesday 29 July. The other matches on match day 1 of the Westfield FFA Cup 2015 Round of 32 include Broadmeadow Magic FC v Heidelberg United FC, Blacktown City FC v MetroStars SC and Hume City FC v Brisbane Strikers FC where there will be single camera coverage by Fox Sports to ensure that every goal is captured. This single camera coverage will also apply to all non-full broadcast matches throughout the Round of 32, Round of 16 and Quarter Finals.**