After initially being selected as a train-on player, midfielder Cameron Devlin is out to prove why he has become one of the A-League’s hottest prospects as he hopes to achieve something with a 'special' Olyroos team.
Devlin is one of 22 Australians set to represent the nation at the Tokyo 2020 Men's Football Tournament this week.
He has had to bide his time in his search for regular first-team football, but after earning selection after a couple of solid seasons with the Wellington Phoenix, he is eager to emulate the success of his heros Tim Cahill and Aaron Mooy - wearing the Green and Gold with pride.
As kick-off against Argentina on July 22 draws closer for the Olyroos, read more about Devlin's journey to Tokyo as socceroos.com.au provides you with a chance to get to know every member of Graham Arnold's squad that little bit better.
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Olyroo Profile: Cameron Devlin
Place of Birth: Sydney, NSW
Club: Newcastle Jets
Previous clubs: Sydney FC, Wellington Phoenix
International experience: Australia U-23
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Devlin was a junior at NPL NSW club Sutherland Sharks, rising through the ranks an age-group below fellow Olyroo Tom Glover.
From Sutherland, he scouted to join the Western Sydney Wanderers academy by Trevor Morgan - now Football Australia's National Technical Director and Joeys coach.
Morgan remains one of Devlin's greatest mentors, who he keeps in touch with today.
Devlin's long road to first team football
Like many of his Olyroo teammates who grew up in Sydney, Devlin was surrounded by Rugby League and while he enjoyed the sport, he gravitated to the round ball at age 10.
Little did he know that it would be football that would go on to have such a monumental impact on his life.
Devlin started his footballing journey with the Sutherland Sharks, where he progressed through the youth ranks and made four appearances for the first team before being picked by Western Sydney Wanderers’ NPL side.
It was Trevor Morgan who spotted Devlin’s talent and nurtured him in the Wanderers' environment.
Devlin has gone on to play for several different coaches but he has no doubt who the most influential person in his career has been.
“I spent two to three years at the Wanderers in the youth team under Trevor and that was unbelievable,” Devlin explained.
“He's probably been the most influential coach that I’ve had because he got me when I was a young kid so he had a massive part in my development and he helped me so much.
“Still to this day, we keep in very close touch and I call him a lot just for advice. He was massive for me.”
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Looking for an A-League opportunity, Devlin moved to Sydney FC and made his debut in 2018.
While he did not feature regularly for the Sky Blues, he seized the opportunity to learn from some of the best midfielders that the A-League has ever seen.
“Obviously in Sydney, I was a young boy and looking up to a lot of players like Ninkovic, Brillante and O'Neill,” Devlin said.
“They all played in a similar position to me. We had Siem De Jong there at the time as well so there were just top class players everywhere.
“I just took the time to watch them and kind of took a backwards step with playing because I would just watch what they would do on and off the pitch and try to replicate it.
“I knew that I might come off the bench here and there but I also knew that I probably wasn't going to start. That was something that was frustrating of course, but I understood because we were winning most games.
“Everyone I have spoken to knows how much of a part Ninkovic played in my time at Sydney. I was a bit of a pest, I just followed him around everywhere and I asked him so many questions.”
After making seven appearances and winning an A-League Grand Final, Devlin was on the move again - this time signing with Wellington in search of regular playing time.
However, it did not come straight away and he had to bide his time at the Phoenix, sitting on the bench in the opening four games but when the door opened, Devlin did not look back and made the most of his opportunity to play.
“When Uffy (Ufuk Talay) signed at Wellington I wasn't too sure what was going to happen because I didn't have many conversations with him but he called me one day and I didn't have any other options, which obviously I'm super grateful for now,” he said.
“With Uffy being a midfielder and obviously giving me the chance to get regular game time as a first-team player was unbelievable.
“He spent a lot of time with me, helping me and improving my game trying to get the best out of me. He was hard on me when he needed to be and gave me love when I needed it. I'm so grateful for him and we will keep in touch.
“Being at Wellington was unbelievable for me, the club was so good to me and the boys were unreal. I had some great players around me that I learnt from and I became close mates with so it was a great experience.”
An Olympic push inspired by football heroes
Devlin is one of a number of Olyroos’ who grew up watching his idols turn dreams into reality on the international stage.
But there were always a few players who stood out. While all-time Socceroos record goalscorer Tim Cahill taught Devlin that any goal is achievable, watching current Socceroo Aaron Mooy offered insights into his own position.
“Watching Tim Cahill, who is a legend of Australian sport, play in the Premier League for a big club and scoring goals was pretty special. I think he's everyone's idol in Australian sport,” Devlin explained.
“In more recent times and in the same position as me, Aaron Mooy is also someone who I watch a lot of.
“Just the way that he's gone about his career is pretty similar to me. He started in the A-League and had to make a name for himself to get overseas and obviously that move was the dream move.
“That is definitely something I would love to replicate one day. The way he plays the game, it's just so good and something that I try to copy in many ways.”
While Devlin was initially in Arnold’s squad as a train-on player, a change to the FIFA rules meant he is now eligible to play an active role in the squad.
The change means that all 22 players are available to the participating teams. It was implemented because of the challenges that COVID-19 has posed to teams worldwide.
As preparations ramp up for Australia's first game of the Men's Football Tournament against Argentina on July 22, Devlin will certainly not take the opportunity to play against some of the world’s best for granted.
“We've got a great group of boys. Not only are they very talented footballers in their own way but everyone's a good person,” Devlin explained.
“I'm just so happy to be a part of it. I feel so lucky, I'm so grateful for it and to link up with the best young players in your age group in the country is very, very special.
“Putting on the Green and Gold is every kid's dream and it's something that I'm actually lucky enough to do.
“It means absolutely everything to me and my family. I'm so grateful and so excited for what's to come with this special team.”
Stay tuned to socceroos.com.au and the Socceroos' social pages for more in-depth profiles of Australia's Men's Football Team at Tokyo 2020. You can check out all of our exclusive pre-Olympic content here.