By Ewan Roberts
The reality of playing in the Premier League would have seemed a distant dream when Mile Jedinak was doing the daily hour's commute from western Sydney to Gosford, home of the the Central Coast Mariners, in a bid to earn a full-time deal with the A-League club.
After an unspectacular loan spell in the Croatian league with NK Varteks, he returned to Australia facing the prospect of a career in an office. Now, seven years later with Crystal Palace, he is facing down some of the best players in the world, and more than holding his own against them.
“I was very eager to show what I can do, having that belief, as I have all along, that I can do it.” Jedinak told Goal, speaking at a Barclays community event which saw him, Ian Holloway and Julian Speroni give community heroes a behind-the-scenes experience as part of the title sponsors saying thank you this season.
The south London club may have endured a disappointing start to the season, recording just one win in five and sitting second bottom of the league, but the Eagles' skipper has shown the ability and poise that has made him a fans' favourite at Selhurt Park.
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AVERAGE PASSES PER GAME
“He has that ability, just when you thought a player was past him, to get a tackle in and win the ball,” said the Scot of his former charge. Jedinak himself seems both modest about the ease with which he has adapted to the top flight, and entirely unsurprised.
“I've just gone about my business as normal, I haven't changed anything, it's just doing what I do. It doesn't really change much with me and all I'm hoping to do is just keep building.
“I haven’t done anything differently, I was just given an opportunity and I've taken it, and to receive plaudits and praise from the manager is always a good thing, but it's business as usual for me.”
Will the individual accolades be worthless if Palace go down? “Exactly. At the end of the day, that's what we want to try and achieve at this football club. Part of that obviously comes with playing well as an individual, but also leading by example, as a captain on the field, and I try to do that on a daily basis and it seems to have a positive effect on everybody else.”
Palace remain the bookies' favourite to be relegated, picking up just three points from a possible 15, but Jedinak, who has taken on the armband in the continued absence of Paddy McCarthy, does not believe the club's results paint an accurate picture.
Asked if the Play-Off winners were struggling, the Australia international responded: “Performance-wise, far from it. Obviously we don't want to be in that position, but we know it's early doors and we've got a lot of football still to be played.
“The group is improving, gelling more and more every day. It's not where we want to be, absolutely, but I don't think our league position is the best indication of where we are at at the moment.
“At this level you need to take your opportunities, and you've got to cut out mistakes otherwise you get punished. I think we've had to come to deal with that straight away. With every game we've had something we've had to deal with.”
|"[The fans have] been incredible. I look forward to coming here all the time. It can be very intimidating for the opposition, and we want it to be like that."
- Jedinak on the Selhurst Park atmosphere
Holloway received a two-game touchline ban for comments made after Tottenham's penalty-aided win in Palace's opening match of the season, while both he and chairman Steve Parish called for players to be red carded for simulation following Ashley Young's histrionics at Old Trafford.
Jedinak, though, is a little less outspoken on the subject. “It's just very hard: it's a hard thing to referee and it's hard when you're playing to be involved in circumstances like that. It can leave a very bitter taste in your mouth.
“You can talk about it as much as you want, but at the end of the day you've conceded a penalty, you've conceded a goal, you've lost three points and the result stands.”
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“It's been incredible. I think even from last season it's just gone up another level. It never goes unnoticed – I know from the squad's point of view they can feel the the energy as well – it's a real buzz and, personally, I look forward to coming here all the time. It can be very intimidating for the opposition, and we want it to be like that.”
An event such as the Barclays community day is a good chance to give back, then? “Yeah, it is. Being with the kids today, and just hearing about some of the stories, you get to see where people come from and hear a little about other people and just try and share your knowledge on being that age and giving advice where possible. It's really something I'm very proud of.”
Next up for Palace is a trip to St Mary's to face Southampton, where Jedinak could deputise at centre-back due to injuries – something he is happy to do. “It's going to be difficult, we know that, but we're always going to back ourselves.”
Were the Premier League decided on talk and spirit, you suspect Crystal Palace's top-flight status would already be assured on the weight of Jedinak's words and belief alone.
Mile Jedinak was speaking at a Barclays community event. This season Barclays is thanking fans, community heroes, players and managers for making the game what it is. Join the conversation on social media using #YouAreFootball.