Heart's midfielder Sarkies back on track
For a player who was a technicality away from being a Socceroos World Cup player six years ago, Kristian Sarkies has endured a tough road since.
But he hopes his return to full fitness, and a Melbourne Heart march into the A-League finals, will deliver on the promise which - through no fault of his own - has yet to be delivered.
So impressed was then-Socceroos coach Guus Hiddink with Sarkies' performances as a train-on squad member at the team's pre-2006 World Cup camp in Holland that he explored the option of dropping an experienced player and adding the 19-year-old to his final squad.
Regulations scuttled that plan.
Sarkies won wider fame a year later, when he planted a kiss on then-Prime Minister John Howard's head after playing and scoring in Melbourne Victory's A-League grand final win.
But a savage run of injuries through his time at the Victory, Adelaide United and last season at the Heart derailed the midfielder's career.
At 25, Sarkies is enjoying his first extended taste of first-team football in years, and is focused only on the future, not what might have been.
"I feel very good at the moment, injury-free. It's better to be playing than not playing," Sarkies said.
"You have your highs and lows, but I guess you've just got to enjoy the highs when you do get them.
"And when you get your lows, you've got to think back to your highs to give you the confidence and inspiration."
Melbourne Heart's strange season, in which they have picked up seven wins in an eight-match stretch, then just six points from their other 12 games, reaches tipping point on Saturday night.
The fifth-placed Heart take on sixth-placed Newcastle away - the Jets one of the competition's form teams and clambering rung by rung up the ladder towards finals.
It's likely nine points from their remaining seven games would be enough for Heart to make the finals, and beating those around them is vital in making that happen.
While the Heart are playing well, they are lacking cutting edge in the final third and are missing experienced duo Fred and Matt Thompson and three Olyroos.
But Sarkies says if the Heart can start picking up the points now, their momentum will be rolling by the time they get back to full strength.
"We'd like to do more than (just make the finals). We've got the players, we've got the players to come back into the team as well," he said.
"But first we've got to consolidate with a few wins to get us into that finals position permanently."