Amazing Grace

The Subway Socceroos

As Official Tailor of the Subway Socceroos, we speak with Keanu Baccus, Thomas Deng and Ajdin Hrustic on what goes through their minds before running out to represent their country.

It’s a sunny Saturday morning at CommBank stadium in Parramatta. It’s not even 48 hours since Game 1 of the Subway Socceroos’ World Cup Qualifier versus Lebanon, and standing just inside the tunnel, Keanu Baccus is smiling. Understandably so.

In case you missed it, it was Keanu’s fifth minute goal – his first goal for the Subway Socceroos – that will go down in Aussie sporting folklore. Intercepting a pass inside Lebanon’s half, Keanu breaks down the right flank, then curls in a long, incredible kick in front of six defenders to score in the top corner of the goal.

“Did he mean it?” the TV commentator wonders out loud, in reference to whether Keanu’s strike was intended to be a cross or genuine scoring shot. “I don’t think anyone cares!” the commentator concludes, capturing the thoughts of a nation.

“I’ll leave it up for debate with people,” laughs Keanu, about the goal. “I hit it in a good area and then it went in, so I can’t complain. It didn’t take any deflections; it wasn’t an own goal. I’ll take it under my name for my first one, and hopefully more to come so there’s more to speak about. To score goals is the greatest feeling I think I’ve ever had in my life… It is what I always dreamed of doing as a kid and doing it at the highest level.”

As Official Tailor of the Subway Socceroos, we’re here at CommBank Stadium for an impromptu photo shoot. Joining Keanu is fellow stars Thomas Deng and Ajdin Hrustic. There is a perception with some sport stars that away from the spotlight they can be difficult. But the opposite is true with this trio. To a man they are all warm, friendly, engaging and gracious, going out of their way to introduce themselves to the crew and shake hands with everyone on set. You couldn’t ask for better ambassadors for Australian football.

Ahead of the upcoming Game 2 v Lebanon in Canberra, we took a moment to ask the players what goes through their heads before the game.

“When you walk from the bus from the changeroom, you’re picturing the kind of game that you’re going to have… the way that you’re going to approach the game,” says Thomas Deng. “Also, who you’re doing it for, you know, your family members, past and present. You’re thinking about all of them, and the people you’re representing, you want to make them proud. You also want to put in a good performance for yourself. So, when the game is done you want to be able to look in the mirror and be proud of the person that you are.”

Ajdin Hrustic, on the other hand, likes to feel relaxed in the changing rooms, listening to music and getting a massage so he doesn’t play the game in his mind too early. “When I’m in the changing room, I try to relax and try not to overthink,” he says. “You can’t plan what’s going to happen, but you imagine stuff. That’s what you do the day before, for example, where you think about what the weakness of this guy or that guy is. When you head into the tunnel, that’s where it all kicks in. You think how long and how hard it was to get where you are, and representing your country, of course, is something special for everyone. And then you look up and you see a full stadium… you get goosebumps.”

In the tunnel, Keanu Baccus says he thinks about mateship and family. “I just think that we’re all good mates. We’ve got a great culture and camaraderie between us. Football is a team sport, but ultimately, you’ve got to do the business individually by yourself in a way. Because you’re the one who’s preparing for the game behind closed doors and eating well and doing all those things that people don’t see. You’ve got to do all the things right then going on to the field’s the bonus and the fun part of our job and lives. We take that part as the best thing that we can possibly do to go out there and play in front of families and friends.”

“Once the whistle blows, it’s go time,” says Thomas Deng. “There’s not much thought anymore. It’s all about the game plan and also just every moment in the game: how you’re going to approach certain things. Just thinking about how you’re going to perform.”


The Subway Socceroos play Lebanon in their Game 2 World Cup Qualifier in Canberra on Tuesday, March 26.


M.J. Bale is the Official Tailor of the Subway Socceroos