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Hometown hero to farewell hallowed turf

Phil Lutton

September 1, 2011 - 5:19AM

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Departing Brisbane Roar captain Matt McKay.

Premier League star Tim Cahill says the Brisbane Roar's pain will be the Socceroos' gain as hometown hero Matt McKay prepares to play a crucial role in Australia's road to the World Cup.

Brisbane born and bred, McKay was a star for the Roar for six seasons, culminating with the dramatic grand final win over the Central Coast Mariners at the start of the year, where his side pegged back two late goals before winning a penalty shootout.

He will head to Glasgow to join Scottish giant Rangers but not before playing for the Socceroos against Thailand in their opening World Cup qualifier on Friday night.

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It's a farewell of sorts for McKay, who had intended to be back for the Roar in the upcoming A-League season before some standout performances in green and gold put him firmly on the international radar.

Everton favourite Cahill said McKay's move will not only be a win for Rangers but a Socceroos side embracing a new generation of players as it forges towards another World Cup.

McKay has become "part of the furniture" in Holger Osieck's line-up since starring in the Asian Cup earlier this year and Cahill thinks his move to Scotland is a win-win situation.

"I'm a massive ambassador for players going overseas and trying different leagues. For Matty this is fantastic. For the Australian team, it's big because it's a different experience," Cahill said.

"He's playing with some high-quality footballers all over Europe and it's only going to make him a better player. (I'm) proud of him because it's a great opportunity for him and his family and probably a dream of his to play overseas. For the Australian national team, it's brilliant."

It's been a dream year in every way for McKay, the 28-year-old midfielder who will take his dangerous left boot and relentless defensive pressure to Ibrox. He said he was struggling to get his head around it all as he prepared for a welcome final fling at his former home ground.

"I guess it is (farewell) to some extent, family and friends especially. I'm going to miss my mates at the Roar but I'm sure they'll do well this season," McKay said.

"I'm glad this game is in Brisbane. It's a few more days here. It's an opportunity to get a few things sorted and see my family before I leave for Saudi Arabia and then obviously Glasgow.

"Saying goodbye to a few people has been difficult. But it's a great opportunity. I'm excited to get over there and get settled. These qualifiers are very important and I want to do my part for my country."

McKay isn't the first A-League player to be signed overseas but in many ways, he's the epitome of what the league is hoping to achieve. He has worked his way through the ranks to become an important part of the national side and heads to Rangers not as a fringe prospect but a complete first-team option.

"I'm proud to say I'm an A-League player from the start. Six great seasons and I feel I was getting better each year. I'm sad to be leaving but I'm proud to represent A-League players in the national team and hopefully it opens the doors for a few others in the future," he said.

McKay has one eye on his new club commitments but is determined to help Australia take care of business against Thailand in what is the first step to the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.

After grabbing his opportunity with both hands in the Asian Cup, McKay has gone from an A-League fill-in around the edges of the national framework to an integral part of the Socceroo midfield machine.

He said he no longer felt out of place in the Socceroo squad and said Osieck's gamble on giving him consistent playing time was the final key to his deal with Rangers.

"I feel a part of the furniture. I've been here for a calendar year now. After the Asian Cup, I really enjoy my time. I definitely feel part of the squad and it's good to be winning games, " McKay said.

"I wouldn't be overseas if it wasn't for my games with the national team. I really needed those games to get my work permit. I'm very grateful for including me in those squads and playing me.

"I've really loved my time with the national team so far but the season I had with the Roar hasn't hurt either. It's been great for my career to have Ange (Postecoglou) come in and transform the team. It's been great for my game."

Friday night's game will be another chapter in a huge year of sport at the Milton stadium, which was flooded in January but since played host to some historic encounters including an A-League win for the Roar, a Super Rugby title for the Reds, an Origin win for Queensland and the first Tri Nations win for the Wallabies in a decade.

The result means the millionth patron will walk through the doors on Friday, far earlier than in previous years, and it will be worth the price of admission.

Whoever buys the ticket will win Qantas return flights and two tickets to the next Socceroos match in Sydney on October 11, as well as a pair of Suncorp Stadium memberships for 2012.

The ground is sold out on Sunday when Darren Lockyer plays his final home and away game for the Broncos and it could be the same story the following weekend when the Broncos host an NRL semi-final.

Read more: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/sport/football/hometown-hero-to-farewell-hallowed-turf-20110831-1jlt1.html#ixzz1Whf6apNp

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