Duke steps up for Socceroos
Socceroos coach Holger Osieck may not be happy about Josh Kennedy missing the East Asian Cup but for Mitchell Duke the striker's absence represents a huge opportunity.
The Central Coast Mariners player made his international debut against South Korea on Saturday playing at the point of attack.
But had Kennedy's Japanese club Nagoya Grampus released him for the four-team tournament, it's likely Duke may not have made the cut for the final 23-man squad.
Or if he had, the 22-year-old would have spent most of his time warming the bench.
As it turned out, Duke may as well have been sat on the bench on Saturday as, through no fault of his own, he got close to no time on the ball with the Socceroos defence under the pump diffusing a barrage of strikes.
But for Duke simply earning his first cap was a big enough accomplishment.
"It was my dream come true," he said.
"I would have liked to have more time on the ball, but that's how the game goes sometimes... but I will take the first cap.
"Holger was happy with what I did, as much as I could do, so hopefully the next two games I can feature a bit more, get more of the ball and put some in the back of the net too."
Duke only signed his first senior contract in January last year just days after his 21st birthday.
By Mariners standards, that's quite late when you consider the likes of Tom Rogic, Bernie Ibini, Mustafa Amini and Mat Ryan - all younger than him - were all teen stars at the club and have already made the move abroad.
Duke made 21 appearances for the championship-winning Mariners last season, most as a second-half substitute, but made an impression late in the campaign scoring six goals in four games.
He credits the advice and belief of Mariners coach Graham Arnold - also a striker in his playing days - for the breakthrough.
"I definitely didn't see me being here (with the Socceroos) in this time," he said.
"Arnie has had all the experience so he can tell me the smarter kind of runs, when to move, when to defend, which helps me out a lot."
Veteran striker Daniel McBreen's absence for the first rounds of the season while he's on loan with Chinese club Shanghai East Asia could also present an opportunity for Duke to get more starts.
But with prodigal son Matt Simon coming back to the Mariners and the likes of Mile Sterjovski at the club, competition is fierce for spots.
"Arnie likes a lot of competition, and you love it as a player because it makes you train better and play better, work harder," Duke said.