From a rifle shot to Ronaldo: Durante prepares to mark 400 games

Andrew Durante has seen pretty much everything in his 20 years at the top of the Australian game – from being shot in the chest while a teenager in a Sydney trial game, to lining up in the tunnel alongside one of the world’s greatest players, Cristiano Ronaldo, and feeling genuine apprehension for the only time in his footballing life.

The now 38-year-old centre-back is due to reach a remarkable milestone on Saturday when he plays at the heart of Western United’s defence against Melbourne Victory.

Durante will be playing in his 400th Australian soccer league game at AAMI Park, a total which puts him in rare air indeed.

Andrew Durante reflects on a career in which he’s been shot, played for New Zealand and against Cristiano Ronaldo as he prepares to mark 400 Australian league games. Credit:Getty Images

It is well behind the phenomenal 522 posted by former Socceroos captain Alex Tobin and one-time Socceroos goalkeeper Clint Bolton (489) but, as one of the few men to have cracked the 400 barrier and played in championship-winning teams in the old National Soccer League and the A-League, he has a rare CV indeed.

His total would probably be at least 60 higher had he not been a victim of the hiatus between the closure of the old NSL and the start-up of the A-League, and for injury. Durante played his last NSL game in October 2003 and his first A-League game in August 2006 for Newcastle Jets, a gap of nearly three years, having broken his leg twice in his early 2000s.

Durante will be 39 in May and says this will be his last season, with a move into coaching with Western, whom he joined for their first campaign last year, his most likely next step.

“My dad lifted up my shirt, and I had this blood dripping down my chest, and he was like, ‘You’ve been shot’. The game got scrapped straight away.”

It has been a magnificent journey in which, as a 20-year-old in the 2001-02 season, he was part of a Sydney Olympic squad that won the NSL title, and six years later he was in the Jets team when they won the 2007-08 A-League championship.

But it hardly begun in auspicious circumstances when as a 17-year-old youngster trialling for the Olympics he went to the bench and a teammate noticed he had blood on his shirt.

“My dad lifted up my shirt, and I had this blood dripping down my chest, and he was like, ‘You’ve been shot’. The game got scrapped straight away and everyone ran to the changing rooms at the opposite end of the field,” he reflected in an earlier interview when looking back on the event.

Andrew Durante, left, and Mitchell Duke, right, contest a header. Credit:Getty Images

“I was thinking the worst. It came through my chest but on an angle and the bullet lodged under my armpit. The doctor gave me a local, did an incision and pulled it out. I think it was a .22 calibre rifle.”

The culprit, Durante believes, was someone “taking random pot shots” at people, but despite a police inquiry the shooter was never found.

It is now just a curio in his memory bank.

“I have been lucky enough to have played a long time, won league championships, played internationally and against some great players. I have really enjoyed it all,” he said.

One of those great players was Ronaldo, whom he faced when playing for New Zealand in the Confederations Cup. Durante had no NZ connections but he left the Jets after the grand final and transferred to Wellington Phoenix. Having been overlooked for the Socceroos – and being based in Wellington for five years – when then Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert, who was also in charge of the NZ national team, offered him the chance to play at international level he jumped at it.

“It was an awesome period in my career. I think I really grew as a player and a person over there with so much responsibility as the captain and leader at Phoenix,” Durante said.

“I had been on the bench for the Socceroos in 2010 against Indonesia in an Asian Cup game. I never got on.

“I wanted to test myself at international level and NZ gave me that opportunity and I am forever grateful.

“I got to play in some really big games, against Ronaldo, I went to the Azteca and played against Mexico, went to Peru for the intercontinental play-off in front of 60,000, so some really great memories there.”

He will never forget his clash with Ronaldo.

“I have never been in awe of anyone, or star-struck, but when I saw him in the tunnel I was like, ‘Holy shit, it’s Ronaldo, he’s standing right next to me’. It was a pretty good moment. Once the game started it was just football, but it was pretty cool to come up against him one-on-one.”

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