'It's something to keep an eye on': Irvine praises Australia's midfield production line

From Jedinak to Milligan to Mooy and Irvine, Australia has produced its fair share of midfielders in recent times. 

Joining Simon Hill and former Socceroos Craig Moore and Zeljko Kalac on the Shim, Spider & so much Moore podcast, the 28-year-old was quizzed as to why the national team have produced such a wide array of options in the centre of the park. 

"It's a strange one as well because I don't really feel like we're similar players," Irvine said. 

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"If you look at our group, when you compare a Tom Rogic to a Mile Jedinak to an Aaron Mooy to a Mark Milligan and even to myself, I feel like we all have totally different qualities physically and technically.

"I don't know, it's a tough one to put your finger on. There's always an element of timing, you see different national teams and you see England at the moment with all of their right-backs, sometimes you just seem to fall on a group of players at one time." 

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For Irvine, competition for places at international level is nothing new. There is a long list of fellow midfielders that he has pulled on the Green and Gold alongside since making his Socceroos debut back in 2013 - with even more up-and-coming talent set to stake their claim in the future. 

"But it feels like in my experience over the last six or seven years the midfield has been packed," the Hibernian midfielder said.

"There's been guys like Musti Amini and Jimmy Jeggo that have come in and played really well, Ajdin Hrustic again - all with different qualities but all midfield players. 

"It's one of those things that is a nightmare for managers, not even for team selection but for squad selection when you've got that many players. For myself, I guess it's something to always keep an eye on.

"Even now you see young Caleb Watts at Southampton, 17 -years-old playing games in the Premier League - that's another guy who is going to have a big push over the next couple of years to get his name in the squad. 

"There's always competition and that means you have to be at the top of your game at domestic level to make sure you're involved in those squads."

Irvine's road to becoming a Socceroos regular is a story of patience and persistence. 

After making a solitary debut appearance in 2013, it took him four years to earn his first start for Australia. 

"I managed to get on in that game for my first cap but it was two years until I was in my next squad," he recalls. 

"Coming into that squad had Jedinak, Milligan, McKay, Mooy, Rogic, Luongo; guys that were all strong midfielders who had played through the Asian Cup campaign and played through the 2014 World Cup.

"You never win easy caps at any level, but I really had to work hard and I think I played nine or ten games off the bench before I got my first start. 

"It's hard work and for a lot of young guys when they first come in, it's difficult, because you want to be involved as much as you can. 

"But you have just got to try and learn as much as you can during the brief periods where you are there and take all of the experience on board and know that when you get the chance you have got to relish it and also cement it and make it your own."

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Irvine feels as though he had just about established himself under Graham Arnold when COVID-19 stopped him and the Socceroos dead in their tracks. 

With the return of international football in this year's May and June FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, he is itching to pick up exactly where he and his teammates left off. 

"Funnily enough for me, my strongest period with the national team probably came in the six months before COVID where I felt like I was playing my strongest football for the national team," Irvine said.

"Especially off the back of the Jordan game which was our last game and I felt was my best game in a Socceroos shirt. To have gone nearly a couple of years without playing - I'm really looking forward to the day where we can meet up again and I'm hoping that shirt will still be mine."