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My eyes lit up: Meet the Belfast lad who has made his senior debut in Australia's A-League

Stephen Mallon came on as a substitute against Western Sydney Wanderers earlier this month and was handed his first start last weekend.
Stephen Mallon came on as a substitute against Western Sydney Wanderers earlier this month and was handed his first start last weekend.

The step into senior football is a big one and perhaps Stephen Mallon is the Belfast boy who has gone furthest in his drive to make it to the top.

The Poleglass man was handed his first senior start on Sunday, playing for Central Coast Mariners in Australia's A-League.

Normally a winger, Mallon started the game at left wing-back and helped his side, still five points adrift at the foot of the table, to a 1-1 draw at third-placed Sydney FC. Scoring a late equaliser from the spot for the hosts was Reading hero Adam Le Fondre.

So how exactly did Mallon's big break come about on the other side of the world?

All you need to know about Stephen Mallon

Age: 20

Club history: Donegal Celtic, Oliver Plunkett, Sheffield United, Central Coast Mariners (loan from Sheffield United)

A loan to Australia? Yes, it's because of the Mariners' connection with the Blades. Former United captain Nick Montgomery is now Assistant Coach down under and used his contacts to land Mallon and 18-year-old defender Sam Graham on short-term deals.

What did he think of that? Well up until Montgomery stepped in, it looked like Mallon would be sent out to League Two to get his first taste of senior football. A switch to Australia, he says, was more appealing.  "Straight away my eyes lit up," he told the Sydney Morning Herald of learning of the loan offer. "It was one of those opportunities you can't really turn down. I wanted to get some experience in men's football, and with it being Australia, it made it twice as good."

Could these long-haul loans become more common-place? They might very well. Mariners already have Aiden O'Neill in from Burnley while Shayon Harrison (Tottenham) is enjoying a spell at Melbourne City.

So is this the start of a glittering career for Mallon? Well that would be the hope. He has always been highly-rated. In fact, when he chose to sign for Sheffield United, it followed interest from city rivals Wednesday, Preston, Everton, Aston Villa and Celtic. Now that he's made the move into the senior ranks, it has been reported that agent Stephen Whelan is working on a new deal at United.

What about his international football? He's a Republic of Ireland youth international who is reported to be attracting interest from new U21 boss Stephen Kenny. He has represented the RoI at both U17 and U19 level, following his switch from Northern Ireland. He had played for NI's U16 side in the 2014 edition of the Victory Shield but switched to the Republic, much to the disappointment of the Irish FA's Elite Performance Director Jim Magilton.

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