Jackson Irvine spoke to the media ahead of the Socceroos’ upcoming 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh on Thursday night.
When the Socceroos gathered in camp ahead of the beginning of their 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup qualification campaign, a poster sat front and centre of their meeting room at the hotel in Melbourne.
The poster read: ‘Many journeys. One Jersey. Our greatest strength is our desire to win’.
It’s a message that – in the eyes of those within their four walls – summarises what the Socceroos are all about.
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“It’s a special statement for us, something we developed as a group together,” Jackson Irvine said, leading into Australia’s upcoming World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh at AAMI Park.
“It kind of encapsulates the identity of what it means to be a part of this team in terms of who we are as individuals and what coming into this environment means to all of us and why we are so connected – probably more so than most teams can be.
“It’s just a reflection of those individual journeys and those paths to becoming, to playing at the highest level for your country and regardless of background or where you grew up or where you play your domestic football, it’s unique to have such a varied group that can come together and connect in such a short space of time.
“It’s a special part of this team that and something we always have around because it’s a reminder of who we are.”
Thursday night heralds the beginning of a new cycle for the national team, who are looking to make it six straight appearances on the world stage.
Despite their success just under a year ago at the World Cup, the national team are in a state of transition, with only nine players remaining from the 26-man squad that went to Qatar.
Aaron Mooy has since retired, while Mathew Leckie and Riley McGree are sidelined through injury and the likes of Ajdin Hrustic, Jason Cummings and Garang Kuol are among the players on the outside looking in.
It’s opened up the door for some fresh, but also some familiar faces to come into the national team setup.
Massimo Luongo has returned after an almost four-year exile, while Cameron Burgess, Alessandro Circati, Lewis Miller, Sammy Silvera and Kusini Yengi are among the players who have earned an opportunity for the first time.
As a result, Irvine has been entrusted as one of the squad’s leaders – along with Maty Ryan and Aziz Behich – who will be leaned upon to guide the Socceroos during the rollercoaster of World Cup qualifying and the upcoming Asian Cup in two months time.
“It’s different in some aspects, but we’ve got a really good core of experienced players and younger ones who have been a part of the last 12 months and have grown into experienced players themselves at international level,” Irvine said.
“So obviously losing someone like Aaron (Mooy) is a huge change within the squad after his contribution over the last years.
“But you look at the likes of Keanu (Baccus) and Aiden O’Neill who stepped in over recent months and done a fantastic job, so it’s got a really good blend of these younger players who are in top form with their clubs and guys have got really good experience at this level.
“We’re moving in such a positive direction as a team, with the new challenges in front of us and we just want to keep developing and getting better and moving into these phases of games.
“It’s just all about that and pushing forward and obviously one eye on January and what’s to come. So for us, it’s just about continually getting better as a team and individuals and growing that group as well.
“It’s a 23 -an squad, everyone will be needed over the next months and beyond. I think we used 50 players or something in the last campaign.
“So there’s plenty of boys that aren’t here in this camp that will contribute, so that pool of players is just getting stronger and bigger and everyone wants to be a part of it.”
One of the players who has stood up enormously over the last year has been Irvine’s teammate at club level, Connor Metcalfe, who has seen greater opportunity at international level, as a result.
The former Melbourne City midfielder has flourished at St Pauli in 2.Bundesliga, scoring two goals and tallying two assists en route to helping the side sit top of the standings heading into the international break.
Irvine has had a front row seat to his development, watching Metcalfe grow into the player he is now since he arrived in Germany last year.
“Yeah, (I) tried to (take him under my wing), but he’s another special player,” he said.
“I pushed him hard to try and get him to come to the club in the first place. He’s got such immense quality, we’ve seen over the last games as he’s come in as a starting player. He’s so versatile, he can play off the right side, through the middle, he’s got pace, he’s got energy and great quality.
“He’s turned into a different animal the last 12 months at St Pauli and he’s brought that form into here and he’s going to be a huge part of the next few years for us as a team and he’s a huge part of why we’re having such great success at the club at the moment as well.
“Obviously as a friend as well, we play together, It’s great to see him doing so well.
“But as a young person, he’s developing into something that can be a huge asset for the national team moving forward.”
The duo will soon be joined by another Aussie in Germany, with teenage star Nestory Irankunda signing for giants Bayern Munich after an incredible rise to stardom at Adelaide United.
Irvine said he’s looking forward to seeing how he develops in a new environment, but also provided some insight into what he can expect once he touches down in Bavaria next year.
“It’s difficult in the sense of the demand and the intensity and the level of professionalism and commitment that it requires to play in a country like Germany,” he said.
“I’ve played in the UK for, for the majority of my career until the last couple of years and it’s just a totally different footballing environment.
“But in a lot of ways, it’s something I always wanted to do and for someone like Nestor to go into that environment… You’re talking about one of the biggest clubs in the world.
“It will be a huge opportunity for his development and to see what’s going to be obviously an incredibly exciting career.”