Having come through the most testing period of his young career so far, Valencia's keeper Mat Ryan says he’s thriving being back in the Caltex Socceroos side and eager to continue building momentum right through to Russia 2018.
A knee injury meant Thursday night’s 7-0 win over Tajikistan – in which Ryan was a virtual spectator – was his first game in the green and gold in more than nine months.
It came at the end of what’s been a challenging season for the 23-year-old, who has had to adapt to playing at a huge club like Valencia, dealing with his first major injury and also spending time on the bench.
“It’s been a funny year…at least I know I’m a bit human because in my career to date I’ve been fortunate to have never missed a game through injury and always been in a team where I was playing as well,” Ryan said on Saturday.
“It [being on the bench] was something that was quite hard to swallow and every game that I’m not playing is a little bit the same.
“But I was just going on trying to learn from the experienced players around me and you have to keep pushing. Everything over there is another step up.
“It’s hard to describe without going there and experiencing it first-hand. It’s been such an eye opener so far and I’ve probably been surprised at how much I’ve learnt.”
Ryan is fortunate at Valencia to work under goalkeeper coach José Manuel Ochotorena, who is also the Spanish national team’s mentor and has worked with the likes of Iker Casillas, David De Gea and Pepe Reina.
“He knows my will in wanting to play but he’s stressing to me the most important thing is to continue to learn and better yourself and work hard,” Ryan explained.
“For someone like me, I’ve always had the personality where I want things straight away so that’s been a challenge.
“At times there’s only so much you can do, just working hard and trying to get back in there as soon as you can.”
Which is exactly what the former Central Coast Mariners gloveman has done.
Ryan produced a couple of exceptional performances in Valencia’s Europa League campaign, impressing coach Gary Neville enough to throw him back into the starting side for the club’s most recent La Liga clash.
It’s beating Jordan at Allianz Stadium which is Ryan’s sole focus for now, with the home side needing to avoid defeat against Harry Redknapp’s side to ensure they top the group.
“They did the job on us in the first game in Jordan. It doesn’t sit well with us, no matter who we’re playing when we don’t get the results and not doing what we set out to do,” the shot-stopper said.
“They will be a very difficult opponent, with the respect to all the other teams, the most difficult team in the group.
“We’re hoping for a packed out stadium here to finish our campaign off in this stage in the best possible way with some momentum for games coming up against England and Greece and the qualifiers after that.”