Every footballer's career is a journey but few could point to one as diverse as John Irving, who arrived at Auckland City from Everton via Bala and Ngaruawahia.

Irving is a tough, quick defender who helped Auckland City to the minor premiership of the ASB Premiership and today take on cross-town rivals Waitakere United in the first leg of their semifinal. It's a big game, by New Zealand standards, but not the sort of derby Irving might have dreamed of being involved in when he was growing up in Liverpool.

The 24-year-old was on the books of English Premier League outfit Everton from the age of 5 until 20 and was even on the bench for the first team a handful of times in pre-season games. When his last contract expired, however, his soccer career took a dispiriting downward spiral.

He spent four years at Bala Town, in the Welsh Premier League and even scored the goal to help them to first round qualifying of the Europa League, but he became disillusioned.


On the recommendation of former Everton teammate Steven Morrison, who now plays for Canterbury United, he ventured to Ngaruawahia.

After only a couple of games in the Northern League Division One, the offers from ASB Premiership clubs started flowing in. The one from Auckland City enticed the most, largely because it was a chance for Irving to try to secure a professional contract somewhere by playing in the Club World Cup.

Once again, the phone was silent. Irving has been recommended to the Phoenix but he hasn't heard anything from New Zealand's only professional outfit and the fact he would be an import complicates the picture. For now, he's focused on helping Auckland win a first ASB Premiership title since 2008/09. They comfortably won the minor premiership, finishing seven points ahead of Team Wellington, and have a full-strength side to choose from tomorrow.

"If we keep our momentum going, I don't think there's any team in the league that can stop us," Irving said.

Hawkes Bay will host Wellington tomorrow in the first leg of the other semifinal.