It's a measure of how far he has come that Michael McGlinchey is considered a captaincy contender when Ricki Herbert hands out the All Whites armband next week.
It is unlikely that McGlinchey will get the job - the favourites are still Tommy Smith or Winston Reid - but he must be in the mix, given his recent form. He has hit a new level of consistency over the past 18 months and is now one of the first names on Herbert's team sheet.
The 26-year-old has also captained the Mariners on a few occasions this year and revelled in the experience.
"It was nice to be given the armband, though I was a bit surprised," McGlinchey told the Herald on Sunday. "[Mariners coach Graham Arnold] told me I was one of the senior players now."
He has also, for the first time in his career, found a goal-scoring touch to go with his knack for creation (he was the A-League leader in assists in the 2011-12 season). He notched a brace against Tahiti in his last international and has scored six goals for the Mariners this season, including a memorable hat-trick last month against Melbourne Victory.
"It is something I had been lacking in my career," admits McGlinchey. "I set a target of 10 goals before the start of this season and I'm almost there."
Despite setting the pace for most of the season, the Mariners are now unlikely to catch the Western Sydney Wanderers in the race for the A-League premiership. They have dropped their last two games and also been drained by their Asian Champions League campaign, where they are still in the hunt for the next phase.
"We've had a bit of dip but I am sure we will bounce back," says McGlinchey. "We'll be there if West Sydney slip up."
After today's game against the Roar, McGlinchey's focus will switch to New Zealand's crucial clash in Dunedin against New Caledonia on Friday. The All Whites need a point to seal their spot as Oceania champions but also have to negotiate a precarious suspension tightrope, with nine players (including McGlinchey) one yellow card away from a one match ban.
The situation is due to an unusual Oceania Football Confederation decision. OFC, along with every other Fifa confederation, are allowed one opportunity to cancel the accumulated cautions during their qualifying process. Instead of using it as late as possible, to perhaps aid their potential World Cup qualifier, OFC voted to clear the cards after stage one of qualifying to allow Samoa (who won stage one over Tonga, the Cook Islands and American Samoa), to enter the Oceania Nations Cup with a clean slate. Samoa then lost all three games in Honiara, conceding 24 goals and scoring just one.
"Any cards and suspensions earned in the remaining games will be carried over into the intercontinental play-offs as Fifa sees the qualifying process as a whole entity," confirmed OFC director of competitions David Firisua. "We had a request from Samoa and decided to proceed with that one to Fifa. We used up our quota [of caution cancellations] back in March so it is not possible to do anything now."
That means it is difficult to see how the All Whites, presuming they progress, will have a full strength team for November's intercontinental play-offs. The only escape route is for players to receive a booking in the New Caledonia game and serve their suspension for the final qualifying match against the Solomon Islands on March 26.
"It is going to be an interesting game - depending on how the result is going," admits McGlinchey of the New Caledonia clash. "There might be a few balls being kicked into the stands, though I am not going to say that I am going to do it.
"The situation is definitely frustrating though. I can clearly remember the Bahrain games back in 2009 - they are massive matches and the ones that everybody wants to play in. You need to have your strongest team out there and it would be unfortunate if, because of a silly yellow card, you can't play in those games. The boys will have to be very careful.""
An additional complication is the threat Les Cagous possesses, after their shock 2-0 upset win over the All Whites in the Oceania Nations Cup semifinals.
"I don't think we will ever underestimate these teams again after what happened in Honiara," says McGlinchey.By Michael Burgess Email Michael