Debutant Duncan aims high for Jets

EAGER BEAVER: Jack Duncan at training yesterday with Clint Gosling.
EAGER BEAVER: Jack Duncan at training yesterday with Clint Gosling.

JETS goalkeeping coach Clint Gosling has never had anyone work harder.

On the pitch, in the gym, studying videos, prehab, rehab ... anything that will provide an edge.

Going back to the Newcastle Breakers days, Gosling has had some of the best shot-stoppers in the country under his care.

But none – not even Socceroo Ante Covic – have the insatiable appetite for work that Jack Duncan possesses.

‘‘You can see the ambition in his eyes,’’ said Gosling, who is also goalkeeping coach for the New Zealand national team.

‘‘He just wants to learn. He is like a sponge. Whether it is strengthening his body, eating the right food, doing the right things, getting enough sleep, not going out and drinking beers ... he does all the right things. He ticks all the boxes.’’

That hard yakka and determination came to the fore on Saturday night when the 18-year-old was pitched into the fray for his A-League debut against champions Brisbane Roar at Ausgrid Stadium.

First-choice keeper Ben Kennedy had been carried off on a stretcher after he suffered concussion in a collision with teammate Tarek Elrich. The Jets were up 1-0 and had all the momentum.

Regular back-up Matt Nash was in the stands nursing a strained adductor.

Duncan had warmed the bench before but nothing compares to the moment you cross the white line for the first time.

‘‘You don’t get time to think about it,’’ Duncan said.

‘‘Straight away you are in the action.’’

Unfortunately one of the first acts the young gloveman had to perform was to retrieve the ball from the back of his net.

The defence failed to handle a cross from Issey Nakajima-Farran and Brazilian Henrique snuck in at the back post to slot home.

Perhaps Duncan could have done more. Either way it was far from the start he had hoped for.

But thankfully his instincts and technique, honed from hours on the training pitch, came through.

‘‘You have to put it out of your head straight away,’’ Duncan said.

‘‘The crowd was awesome. They got right behind me and gave me a lot of encouragement which was a big help. Every touch I got they were cheering.’’

He made a good save low to his left at the near post, was confident coming off his line and played out well from the back despite the pressing pressure of the Roar.

‘‘I did get a little bit of shock by the pace of the game,’’ he admitted.

There was little Duncan could do to prevent the Roar’s winner, a curling first-time strike by James Meyer which nestled into the top left corner.

It was back to reality on Sunday when he resumed in goals for a Jets youth team who were punished 6-3 by the Roar in 36-degree heat at Adamstown Oval.

Kennedy had CT scans yesterday and is in doubt for the road trip to Adelaide on Friday.

Nash has returned to full training and barring a setback is likely to cover for Kennedy if needed.

‘‘Now that I have that experience obviously I want more,’’ Duncan said.

Jets coach Gary van Egmond has been impressed by Duncan’s drive and cool head and couldn’t fault his performance.

‘‘He’s ambitious and wants to succeed,’’ the coach said.

Saturday night’s unexpected cameo capped a memorable month after Duncan earned his first national team call-up for the Asian under-20 qualifiers in Malaysia where he helped the Young Socceroos progress to the next stage.

Born in Perth before moving to Sutherland with his family at age eight, Duncan is in his second season at the Jets.

After completing his Higher School Certificate 12 months ago, he relocated to Newcastle and moved into a boarding house in Hamilton.

He had been recommended to then Jets youth team coach Craig Deans by Mariners goalkeeper coach John Crawley, who had an academy which Duncan attended in Blacktown.

Mariners keeper and rising star Matthew Ryan was in the same academy squad.

Gosling has no doubts that Duncan has the potential to emulate the Mariners gloveman, who was close to man of the match in last year’s A-League grand final.

‘‘Saturday night will be good for him,’’ Gosling said.

‘‘I was more nervous than he was. His attitude was, ‘Give me a go, let me at it.’

‘‘He has a real hunger and is willing to do anything he can to reach his targets.

‘‘There are areas he needs to improve – his quickness of distribution, especially with his left foot – but he is getting there.’’

Duncan, who is also studying a science degree, is one of two apprentices at the Jets along with midfielder and youth team captain Jacob Pepper.

Kennedy followed a similar path, starting as a teenage trainee in inaugural season of the A-League before pitched into the hot seat in season two when Liam Reddy departed.

‘‘I was thinking that the other day,’’ Duncan said. ‘‘BK got his opportunity when he was young and took it. As a result he got a first team contract.

‘‘I’d like to follow in his footsteps. The whole decision to move up here was to push myself so that if the opportunity came, the hard work would come through.

‘‘It is nice to see some rewards, but I always want to get better.’’