What a difference a decade can make in a sports person 's career — just ask Napier City Rovers footballer Andrew Abba.
When Abba made his debut at Park Island in 2008 you could say he was footloose and fancy free but within a few games the then diminutive 19-year-old had copped some raspberries, even from the Bluewater Stadium faithful, for succumbing to gravity too easily in the 18m box.
Ten years on, the forager is back in the colours of the Thirsty Whale-sponsored Blues this Central League season and on Thursday jetted off to Honiara to represent his birth country of Solomon Islands.
"It's really exciting, after missing out on the last few years, to be back in again," said the 29-year-old who returned to the Rovers in March after partner Elaine McGrath secured a job at the Hawke's Bay Regional Hospital in Hastings as the head of histology department.
Abba's only appearance for his country's marquee team was in 2013 when they lost 2-0 to Tahiti in a Confederation Cup qualifying match.
A striker, with the licence to roam in the mould of a winger, he'll be unavailable for the Bill Robertson-coached Rovers until next month. He'll also miss the 2pm kick off for his defending champions team here against Lower Hutt City tomorrow.
"It'll be an opportunity of a lifetime but I'll have to leave my boys here although I'm hoping they'll keep on winning until I get back," the dreadlocked one said with a laugh.
A month ago, new national coach Wim Rijsbergen had conducted trials culling a squad of 40 to 23 although Abba didn't have to attend the sessions as a player plying his trade overseas.
Abba suspected he caught Rijsbergen's eye when he scored five goals for Waitakere United during the national summer league last season although he had kept contact with the coaching stable during his few visits back to Honiara.
The Solomon Islands team will train for three weeks in the Netherlands before playing Singapore in a friendly international on June 8.
On returning to Honiara, Rijsbergen will announce his final squad to compete in the South Pacific Games in July. It includes Micah Lea'alafa (Auckland City), Benjamin Totori (ex-Wellington Phoenix ), Gagame Feni (ex-Building King Havelock North Wanderers) and a Scots College (Wellington) schoolboy, Raphael Lea'i, who is in the Phoenix academy.
Abba has mutated into a more solid player who keeps his feet in New Zealand where Pacific Islanders tend to struggle with the physicality in their early years. He seems to have sacrificed some speed but still terrorises defenders with darting runs and clinical passes and isn't coming under referees' attention for allegedly taking a dive.
Asked if age had changed everyone's attitude towards his approach, a chuckling Abba said: "I don't know. I'll have to leave it to the supporters to be the judge of that."
However, the bloke who represented Hawke's Bay United for two seasons (2008-10) under the tutelage of Jonathan Gould, Bobby Gould and Matt Chandler, revealed he had been working on his strength.
Robertson said it was a wonderful opportunity for Abba to further his career but said it gave someone else in the squad a chance to fill his boots.
"We're delighted for Abba's opportunity to represent the Solomon Islands who'll obviously be a loss for us because he's been very effective at the start of the season so we wish him all the best for the next month with his national team."
The table-topping Blues have lost just once, to Western Suburbs, this season.
An injury-free squad, with a fair bit of rotation throughout the season, meant it was an ideal opportunity for someone to leave an indelible impression against Lower Hutt City.
"It can be an opportunity to keep the shirt for the rest of the season," he said.
Robertson said the sixth-placed visitors had established a link with Wellington Phoenix this year to keep the A-League campaigners' academy reservoir full.
"They will be a very talented group of players and a young side so we need to be mindful of that.
"I'm sure it's a tough game and we're the champions at home so we're expected to win and we'll certainly be trying to get three points," he said.
The Wanderers and Alexander Electric Napier Marist kick off at home against Red Sox Manawatu and Palmerston North Boys' High First XI at 2.45pm and 2pm, respectively, in round six of the second-tier Central Federation League today.
The Blues, Wanderers and Napier Marist have also progressed to round two of the Chatham Cup (national knockout competition) on Queen's Birthday weekend of June 1-3.
The Blues host Tawa, Napier Marist travel to Stop Out in Wellington while the Wanderers face North Wellington.