While previously the Australian contingent in the Championship had been focused purely on the likes of Massimo Luongo, Bailey Wright and Socceroos skipper Mile Jedinak, now Irvine is taking centre stage.
Two Australians have caught the eye in a big way this year in England’s second tier. Both have arrived this season from foreign clubs, both are midfielders and both are earning rave reviews. One is Aaron Mooy, the playmaker pushing Huddersfield Town towards promotion into the Premier League.
The other is a tall, pony-tailed AFL fan who came through the ranks in Scotland and is fighting hard to keep one of the division’s smallest clubs up – Jackson Irvine.
While his club career is taking off, so is his international career about to skyrocket. Irvine was almost lost to Australian football when he represented Scotland’s Under-19s, but he was enticed back into the fold five years ago and then played for the Young Socceroos and the Olyroos. His full senior international debut came at Craven Cottage in 2013 in a 3-0 win over Canada, Australia’s first game after the sacking of Holger Osieck.
“That’s only the boys who play overseas, there’s the Luke Brattans, the James Troisis who are having great seasons in the A-League,” he says. “Jimmy Jeggo’s having a really good season as well. The midfield is a really tough area, it’s one we’ve always been strong in but we’re lucky we have a lot of different players who bring different qualities within the team. We just all hope we can contribute in some way, whether we’re selected in the 23 or the starting XI, you’re just part of the wider squad.”
Australia face crucial games in their next two World Cup qualifiers, with matches against Iraq in Tehran on Thursday and the United Arab Emirates in Sydney next week. Losses in either game could see the Socceroos slide down their group as the qualifying period enters its critical phase. Irvine says the national team aren’t taking anything for granted in Iran.
“That’s something we’re used to, playing in Saudi Arabia and UAE with the heat and hostility of the crowd and everything, the surfaces. These are the things people don’t probably look into when they see the results when we play in these sorts of places. It is extremely difficult but we don’t use that as an excuse, we just approach it the same way and try and play our football. We know if we do it the right way it will be enough to win the games.”
Irvine’s excitement at continuing his football evolution against the best in the world is palpable. “It’s incredibly exciting,” he admits. “I think it’s going to be a great time for football in our country, to be playing in such high-profile games.”
Qualifying for their fourth World Cup in a row would be huge achievement for Australia, but the Socceroos’ and Irvine’s ambitions do not stop there. The midfielder wants to help take the national team to a new level.
“It’s a testament to how Australian football’s come that it’s an expectation now that we should be there,” he says. “We’ve sort of proven ourselves at that level now and we need to keep pushing. It’s not just about qualifying for World Cups now, we need to do well and progress and go further than any Australian team has before. That’s got to be the goal. As difficult as it is, you need to believe that if you keep playing the right way and believing in the system that we have that it will get us to the next level.”