Connor Pain: Inheriting an FA Cup final legacy

The explosive young forward is set to tackle Melbourne Heart on Saturday and could be a star of the 2013-14 campaign. Shaun Moran examines his unique football heritage

Once in a while, a player emerges from nowhere to catch the eye of everyone around him, and Australia may well have come across an invaluable gem in the form of a blonde dynamo born on foreign shores.

Despite only featuring for 780 minutes in the A-League and netting just one goal to date, Connor Pain is nevertheless being touted as a talent who can bolster his country's limited attacking stocks.

Having been born in Hong Kong to English expatriates, it wasn't long before Pain discovered his sport of choice, moving to Melbourne at the age of eight.

The 19-year-old's grandfather Tommy Casey represented Northern Ireland in the 1958 World Cup and took part in the 1955 FA Cup final for Newcastle United, which meant choosing football was always a straightforward decision for the youngster.

"Well I think it was him, yeah," Pain said when asked if Casey was his biggest influence.

"Because you hear stories about what he achieved. And he used to fill me in on what it was like to play at Wembley, but it was my parents as well."

As if having a grandfather who played at Wembley Stadium and appeared at the World Cup wasn't enough, Pain has also enjoyed a fairytale graduation from avid Victory supporter, cheering on the lads, to being one of them himself.

"It was something that you always sort of dream of, watching them from the stands and it was a bit surreal at first, but it's been a great experience."

Not being content with just watching on, he sought to try his own luck, joining local sides Beaumaris and Caulfield.

He rose through the ranks, moving to Malvern City and then eventually Bentleigh Greens, where he featured in last season's Victorian Premier League.

His talent and promise began turning heads, and Ange Postecoglou came knocking on the door, the last step in his dream coming to fruition.

Pain signed his first professional contract in March, and was a major part of Victory's National Youth Team success, helping them claim the 2012-13 premiership.

He made his senior derby in the fiery environment of a Melbourne derby in February, and his performances in the second half of the season earned him a call up from Young Socceroos coach Paul Okon, representing his country at the 2013 Under-20 World Cup in Turkey.

Former Socceroo and Lazio midfielder Okon said the winger's talent and all-round aptitude has not gone unnoticed.

"Connor has come on very quickly in a short space of time," Okon said.

"He has adapted very well to professional football and he's making the right steps to develop into a quality footballer.

"This is equally matched by his excellent attitude and application."

Following hot on the heels of that Under-20 World Cup appearance was a remarkable July for the Deacon University student, who took to the field in front of a record 95,000 crowd against Liverpool for club and then China for country only four days later, rubbing shoulders with some of the world's finest, prior to winning his first senior Australia cap.

After being singled out for individual praise by Reds manager Brendan Rodgers, Pain conceded that he could not have imagined such a startling forward jolt in his career when he was toughing it out for Bentleigh only twelve months earlier.

"No, of course not," he admitted.

"I was hoping to break into a professional environment at some point.

"But I could not have thought it would have come so fast. But at the same time, I haven't really achieved anything yet. So it's about going to training every day and keep working hard."

And while reflecting on his career to date, he expressed his satisfaction with a shirt-swap coup at the conclusion of the MCG blockbuster, snaffling a fellow winger's kit. 

"I ended up getting Stewart Downing's," he laughed.

The teenager has a big season ahead as he seeks to answer his coach's recent call of stepping into the void left by Marco Rojas.

"Why not? I mean, 12 months ago Marco hadn't scored a goal in the A-League [for Melbourne Victory] and went on to score 15 because we invested time and our structure suited him," Postecoglou when asked if Pain could replace the 'Kiwi Messi'.

Television presenter Adam Peacock agreed, claiming Pain is in the best environment to develop his undisputed gifts.

"This kid has got such a future," he said.

"Loved what I saw last season for him, and now Marco Rojas has moved on, he has the perfect opportunity to replicate the Kiwi's deeds of last season in the position he vacated.

"Early signs are good too with his performance against Liverpool raising expectations, and his coach is certainly a mentor who turns expectation into action."

Peacock's Fox Sports colleague Simon Hill expressed similar sentiments, declaring that Pain's bright start puts him in a great position to continue making progress.

"Connor has a big future - his pace and positivity on the flank were a sight for sore eyes in the A-League last year, and with a senior Socceroos appearance already under his belt, I can see many more for this talented 19-year-old," Hill said.

The teenager himself was more circumspect when quizzed on his potential impact, claiming that his feet are still well and truly on the ground.

"On a personal level, I obviously don't look too far ahead," he said.

"I sort of just take it day by day at training. It's obviously up to the boss. I just want to be involved with the squad at the start of the season and go from there. To be in the match-day squad and 16 against Heart would be great."

With two years still remaining on his Victory contract, A-League and potential AFC Champions League exposure will certainly do him no harm.

Although modestly brushing off suggestions that he is aiming to nab a place in the World Cup squad for Brazil, stranger things have happened.

Pain's pace and flare would add another dimension to the Socceroos' frontline in a tournament where they could lack creativity and imagination.

A place on the plane to Brazil may prove just out of reach, but Pain's burgeoning ability is something that cannot be questioned, and should give him every chance of continuing to reach dizzying heights for club and country.

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