AS Ben Kantarovski prepares to equal the record for the most games for the Newcastle Jets, the home-grown utility insists it is only the beginning.
Kantarovski will join former fullback Tarek Elrich on 134 games if, as expected, he is involved in the battle against Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park on Saturday.
It is a milestone that the Broadmeadow Magic junior hadn’t kept tabs on but one which generates immense pride.
“It is something you don’t really think about, you just want to play every game,” Kantarovski told the Newcastle Herald. “To reach this milestone is a massive honour. To be able to do it here in Newcastle, where I’m from, is hard to put into words. Being a local, you have that connection and have that heart in the shirt. For me it is just the beginning. It is case of seeing how many more games I can get, and making sure they are games we have won.”
It’s easy to forget that Kantarovski is only 24.
He became the youngest player in A-League history when he made his debut aged 16 years and 208 days against the Mariners at home in the opening round of the 2008-09 season.
“It is one of the few games I remember… they all tend to blend together,” Kantarovski said. “That one really sticks out. I was lucky to have a solid network of support around me. The team won the title the year before and we had leaders across the park.”
Kantarovski was named player of the year in a disappointing team campaign in which they went from defending champions to collecting the wooden spoon.
The Jets have only made one final series since 2008 – a statistic that Kantarovski is desperate to correct.
“When I first started the club was at its peak,” he said. “Although I didn’t play the year we won it, I was a train-on apprentice. To witness and experience that success and then not to be a part of it for such a long time, it does create a burning hole inside of me.”
Kantarovski, who is off contract, admitted he had been “close to moving” a couple of times but had been “drawn back”.
“You need new challenges to test yourself as a footballer and maybe the next one could be to challenge myself elsewhere,” he said. “I’m not thinking that at the moment.”
If not for two serious and untimely knee injuries, the ball-winning midfielder could have already been plying his trade in Europe.
An Australian representative at under-17, under-20 and under-23 level, Kantarovski trained at Bayern Munich in 2009 and turned down an opportunity to join the German giant’s academy to complete his schooling at Lambton High and play in the A-League.
However, his rocket-like trajectory was stalled by major knee operations in 2010 and 2012 which wiped out almost two years and impacted on his pace and agility. Although not chronic, the knee remains problematic.
“The last two years, it has been the best it has been since before I injured it in the first place,” he said. “I see myself playing until I’m 40. But you don’t look too far down the track. You want to make sure your performances week-in week-out speak for themselves and build for the year to come.”
As for talks about a new contract with the Jets.
“You just have to make sure you are doing the job on the field. That stuff sorts itself behind the scenes.”