Former Australian youth international Luke O’Dea says a professional football presence in south-east Victoria would bust open the door for a new breed of emerging talent from Gippsland.
Warragul product O’Dea came through Melbourne Victory’s youth ranks between 2009-13, eventually making two A-League appearances as well as coming on in friendly games against the likes of Boca Juniors, Celtic and L.A Galaxy.
He spent 2013-14 on the books of Melbourne City, only for injuries to curtail a promising career, which are still hampering the now Warragul United player today.
O’Dea’s junior story is typical of many talented country teens, with he and his parents repeatedly making the arduous trip to the city for training and games.
O’Dea, now 25, said there are plenty of talented boys and girls in the Latrobe Valley and Southern Gippsland region who, with the right nurturing, could make the grade at A-League and W-League level.
And he said a professional club training at Casey Fields and playing in Dandenong would be the perfect way to shine a light on that talent and bring it through the ranks.
“I was lucky, I got accepted into the Victorian Institute of Sport when I was a lot younger,” O’Dea said.
“Mum took time off work to help me, so she had the time to drive me back and forth. We were in Melbourne probably six times a week.
“Long hours, I’d have school and then go to Melbourne and probably wouldn’t get home until after 9pm. It was the same story when I got into Victory youth.
“It’s a massive commitment. It made it really hard.
“If I had have been able to have a club that was just 45-50 minutes away, it would have made life so much easier. How much less driving would I have done?
“It would give young kids here something to aspire to. They’re within touching distance, here, of the Casey-Dandenong region.
“It gives kids here an opportunity that hasn’t really existed for a long time.”