'They thought I made a mistake': Ruon Tongyik's heartwarming reaction to first Socceroos call-up
When Ruon Tongyik received notice of his first call-up for the Socceroos, he and his club both couldn't quite believe what they were hearing.
The 24-year-old centre-back, who previously represented the Australia U-23's back in 2018, has been an integral figure in the fairytale rise of the Central Coast Mariners from the foot of the A-League ladder into Premiership challengers this season.
Being born on December 28, 1996, the 24-year-old is ineligible for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Men's Football Tournament by the narrowest of margins.
However during Tongyik's 22 A-League starts so far this season, the defender's performances were enough to catch the eye of Graham Arnold - who this week named his 31-man squad bound for June's four FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in Kuwait.
"When you speak to a new debutant, someone who's coming into camp for the first time, you get a real buzz," reflected Arnold.
"I'm getting goosebumps now talking about it, because I think when I first sent the letter they (Central Coast Mariners) thought it was for the Olyroos.
So they thought I made a mistake with his age because he's three days too old for the Olyroos.
"I said no no, this is for the Socceroos. And (Mariners Coach) Alen Stajcic was extremely proud because he said, 'Arnie, he fully deserves it. He's had a great season.'"
Tongyik's rise to a maiden Socceroos call-up is a heartwarming tale.
Born in South Sudan, his family migrated to Australia when Ruon was six years of age. Settling in the Adelaide, he worked his way up through the ranks at Adelaide Olympic, and Adelaide United's NPL outfit.
From there the opportunity arose to move to Melbourne City, where he made his A-League debut in late 2016, before short stints at Western Sydney Wanderers and Brisbane Roar followed.
It was at Tongyik's fifth A-League club, the Central Coast Mariners, that he truly found his football home.
Upon joining, he entered a club that had experienced a tough run in recent years; falling to a fourth bottom-placed finish in five seasons. But fast forward a year-and-a-half, and with Tongyik a mainstay in the heart of defense, Alen Stajcic's side have shocked the league.
Despite a slight dip in form after leading the competition earlier in the season, Tongyik's team are still strongly in the conversation for a long-awaited return to finals football.
With his sights firmly fixated on maintaining the Mariners' momentum, the defender's reaction to the Socceroos Head Coach's call was clearly one of surprise.
"I when I rang Ruon it was a bit like, 'Really? Me for the Socceroos? Wow, my mum's going to be so proud,'" recalled Arnold.
"606 players have played for the Socceroos in almost 100 years. That's how hard it is to play for the Socceroos so it's always a special thing."