Jeremy Brockie’s rise from journeyman to lethal marksman has been a long time coming and not without its trials for the Wellington Phoenix striker.
This season, the Hyundai A-League has thrown up plenty of fascinating sub-plots, and the hunt for the Golden Boot has been a tale of contrasts.
Of the three main contenders, one veteran has been knocking in the goals like a fearless teenager, one inexperienced tearaway has been tearing holes in experienced defences, and the bottom team-s striker could top them all, scoring spectacular goals while his team plays ugly.
Jeremy Brockie-s rise from journeyman to lethal marksman has been a long time coming and not without its trials for the Wellington Phoenix striker.
After catching the eye as a teenager with the New Zealand Knights in the A-League's maiden season, Brockie secured a two-year contract with Sydney FC, the Sky Blues still then in full “Bling FC” mode.
But a combination of injury and Sydney-s trademark instability confined him to the sidelines, and he was allowed a release from his contract after just one year. For a player with so much ability and potential, it was a huge blow and Brockie returned to New Zealand struggling to cope with the path his career had taken.
But, painful as it was, it was the making of him.
“It was the lowest point of my career after my two years at Sydney,” Brockie tells footballaustralia.com.au.
“I got there with a broken foot and never really got going. Then Pierre Littbarski left and Terry Butcher came in and it was a season from hell.
“I wasn-t getting much game time; I felt uncomfortable there and knew I had to get out of that environment. So I went back home to try and start again. You don-t get too many opportunities to be a professional footballer.
“I went back and worked very hard with Jonathon Gould, at the time he was the Hawkes Bay coach (in the New Zealand Football Championship) and I got that through that season and still wasn-t performing anywhere near where I could.
“The Olympic campaign came along and the fitness coach Andy Smith, along with Gould and the head coach Stu Jacobs, pretty much pulled me aside and said this is going to be your last opportunity to show whether you-re going to make it.
"I got my act together and worked hard on and off the training pitch, had a really good Olympic campaign and was thrown a lifeline by Ian Ferguson at the Fury.”
Brockie wasn-t an exactly a hit at North Queensland Fury either, however, scoring just once in 14 appearances, but it was still an important personal step, as the return to elite football illustrated how hard he would have to work to fulfil his childhood dream.
“Ever since I was a young kid I dream of being a footballer and playing for my country,” Brockie says, “and it was definitely hard when I left Sydney.
"But missing the training environment of working every day made me work that much harder to try and get another opportunity. It all paid off.”
Brockie left Townsville at the end of the season, signing a two-year contract with Branko Culina-s Newcastle Jets. After the uncertainty surrounding the Fury, the Jets represented another step forward but still Brockie had much to prove.
He only managed two goals in 14 appearances in 2010-11 but it was his work on the training park that really got him back on the right path. The following season Brockie hit his stride, displaying a level of confidence and instinctive brilliance we hadn-t seen before, scoring nine times, including one of the goals of the season against Perth Glory.
“In my second season at Newcastle the strength and condition coach got hold of me and shed 5kgs of my playing weight, which made it a lot easier to get round the park. I felt so much better about myself and I was lasting the 90 minutes in games.
“It was also my first injury free season since I-ve been in the A-League so the consistency of playing week in, week out, along with making sure I did the right things, in terms of looking after my body off the field. It was a big factor.”
It was a sign of things to come. This season, even while Phoenix have struggled on the field and in the backroom, Brockie has continued his progression.
With his team rooted to the bottom of the ladder and struggling to create chances, the 25-year-old has simply set about doing it on his own, scoring a reel of freakishly brilliant goals to challenge Daniel McBreen and Marco Rojas for the Golden Boot.
It-s been one of the ongoing highlights of the season; Jeremy Brockie rarely scores ugly goals and they-re never by chance. They-re what I call “park goals” - the kind you and your mates score once in a blue moon, those exceptional moments where carefree ambition and blind luck come together. But for Brockie, they-re the end product of years of dedication.
“When I was growing up I always liked scoring goals, I always liked volleying, and I put a lot of time and practice in. It was a lot of hours on technique. I used to go to the park for hours after school and before and after training and practice a lot of technique stuff.
“I know as a striker I still need to work on that poacher-s role in and around the box, and beating defenders to get in for the tap-ins - that-s what I-m working on now.”
Without that work, it might not have gone this way. Many footballers will often credit successful careers to a combination of hard work and luck, and after battling his way back, Brockie appreciates this more than most.
He-s also still in touch with his old mate and teammate former Michael White. The former NZ Knights midfielder dropped back into the lower leagues following the collapse of the Knights.
“He-s playing in the Christchurch league now,” Brockie says. “I-m not too sure if he-s got much desire to go past that now. We were close mates growing up; there were four of us wanted to be professional footballers, which helped us and pushed us a lot.
“Sometimes other people get the lucky breaks and maybe I was that one and I-m very fortunate for where I am. And I-ve got a lot to thank my mates for because we all used to go the park after school and just hang out and play football.”
And yet for all that journey and his personal success this season, Brockie can still only look up from the bottom of the ladder. After a season of turmoil and the eventual demise of Ricki Herbert, it-s the start of a new era at Wellington Phoenix. Their season might be over but Brockie says the players still have a reason to sign off in style.
“Since Chris Greenacre took over, he-s brought in that enthusiasm - maybe the position we-re in and not being able to make the finals has given us the freedom to go and enjoy ourselves and play with a smile on our faces.
“There are some boys off contract and we don-t know who the new head coach is that-s going to come in so you-ve got to keep performing and playing for the pride of the shirt to be able to keep your place next year or to win a contract.”
Whoever does eventually take the reins, Brockie should be first name on the list to secure. We-ve already got the “Kiwi Messi” in Rojas; who says we can-t have the “Kiwi Ronaldo” next year?