'Thrown in the deep end': The challenges McGowan overcame on abrupt Socceroos return

Despite not playing for the Socceroos since 2017, Ryan McGowan's  reintroduction to international football came in last-minute fashion as he was drafted in by Graham Arnold on the eve of Australia's 3-0 win over Kuwait. 

In his first national Socceroos appearance since starting against Chile at the 2017 Confederations Cup, McGowan played the full 90 minutes - in a performance that coach Graham Arnold later revealed saw him 'lose four kilos'. 

Impressively, the Sydney FC defender had only arrived in the camp just days before he was thrust into action and credited his seamless addition to the family environment that has been created within the squad.

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Socceroos v Nepal

Arnold, who had planned for Trent Sainsbury to start before he pulled out due to back soreness, singled McGowan out for praise following his impressive display. 

“I’ve got to give a great accolade to Ryan McGowan,” Arnold said after the win.

“He arrived only two days ago and for him to do what he did and play 90 minutes and play the way that he did was great.

“It just shows you that we have a family culture in the Socceroos of mateship. It’s like a family that these boys hadn’t seen for 18 months and as soon as they come into camp it took them one day to reconnect. That (performance is) only 20 per cent of what you're going to get from this team.

"I expect a big improvement from the players - (they were) at times a little bit rusty and turned over possession a bit easy but this team is only going to get greater and greater."

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With plenty of games over the next ten days and a long flight under his belt, you could forgive McGowan for wanting some extra time to acquaint himself with the national team setup.

But he had no hesitation in embracing Arnold’s decision to start him in the heart of the Socceroos defence after such a long absence.

“The night before the game, Arnie pulled me aside and said that I’d be in," McGowan explained.

"I think the plan was to play (Trent) Sainsbury but he’d pulled up a bit sore and Arnie said that I’d be going straight in.

"I’ve kind of done that through my whole Socceroos career, a little bit, been thrown in at the deep end. From my point of view, I just made sure I was ready coming into camp and wouldn’t let them down.

It’s been a long time between drinks, so I definitely wasn’t going to say I need a couple more days. It’s a massive opportunity to play for your country at any point. I was more than ready."

While many of his Socceroos’ teammates were able to get accustomed to the conditions in a training camp in the United Arab Emirates, the 31-year-old's A-League committments meant that he had no luxury of acclimatisation. 

“I was struggling a little bit through certain parts of the game because of the heat, I’m not going to lie, with the breathing and getting used to that," he explained.

"But I thought the whole team's performance was great. We kept them pinned in for long periods of time.

"It was probably one of the better performances that I’ve been in in a Socceroos shirt in terms of goals and the whole way we controlled the game last night.

"And like Arnie has said many times, it’s like a family. As soon as you’re back in you’ve played with or know most of the boys so you’re just wanting to get out there and do your best."

It’s this notion of mateship and camaraderie that Arnold has worked hard to instil in the camp.

And amidst a packed fixture list, the Socceroos will be hoping their togetherness helps them to progress to the next stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

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Socceroos’ June Schedule

Australia 3-0 Kuwait

Highlights: Socceroos v Kuwait

Australia 5-1 Chinese Taipei

MINI MATCH: Socceroos v Chinese Taipei

Nepal v Australia

Friday, 11 June 2021 (12 June AEST)
Venue: Jaber Al-Hamad International Stadium
Kick-off: 7.00pm local, 2.00am AEST (Saturday morning)
Watch on Fox Sports, Kayo Sports and My Football Live App.
More on how to watch here.

Australia v Jordan

Tuesday, 15 June 2021 (16 June AEST)
Venue: TBC
Kick-off: TBC
Watch on Fox Sports, Kayo Sports, ABC TV and My Football Live App.