For many National Youth League players it can feel like make or break as the clock ticks down on the season. Determined to be amongst the players that make the jump from the NYL to the A-League, Melbourne Heart’s rising star Alex Dao shares with the PFA his dream of securing a senior contract and the sacrifices he is making in pursuit of it.

“I’m doing everything I can, I watch everything I eat and I make sure I get loads of sleep, it is the fittest I have ever been,” says Melbourne Heart NYL player Alex Dao. Water bottle in hand and looking fighting fit it is obvious that he is being true to his word.

The reason for doing so is obvious – the chance to play in the A-League. With only four games remaining in the NYL season and too old to play in the competition next season Dao is determined to take his chance now. “It does not mean it’s the end if it doesn’t happen now but it gets harder I guess,” the midfielder says. “If I have to drop back to the State League it’s more difficult because you don’t train as much.”

The signs in recent weeks have given Dao cause for optimism with the former FC Bulleen Lions player training with the Heart first team. Desperate to make an impact on Heart Boss John van’t Ship coming to training for the first time was a little daunting.

“I was really nervous before the first session,” says Dao. “It was quite nerve racking at the start, firstly meeting all the boys, luckily all the players here are really helpful and open.

“It’s a different intensity, you have to adjust physically also and not making as many mistakes because you have more pressure on you from the older players, who also give you an insight on how to be better. After a few sessions you start to get used to the pace of the game and from there you are trying to impress.”

Having had the taste of life in the A-League Dao is now determined to ensure he does all he can to earn an A-League contract. “You have to make up your mind and put everything you can into it otherwise you will regret it.” Putting everything into has meant making plenty of sacrifices. His University studies, where he has already completed three years of an Engineering Degree, has been dropped back to part-time and nights out with his mates are definitely out of the question.

“I have seen what goes into making it to the senior team and I want to put everything into it. Last semester it was tough to balance a full-time study load with my training commitments. It was not something that I wanted to stop completely because it is something I enjoy and I know how valuable it is but I wanted to have time to do both well.

“My mates have been hanging on me because I can’t go out or see them as much but if you love football these are the sacrifices you have to make. Most of them all understand and are great about it.”

With only four games remaining and still unsure of whether he will offered an A-League contract with the Heart, Dao is trying not to let the uncertainty affect him but concedes it is not always easy.

“To get the chance to play A-League would be unbelievable. If not I guess I will go back to studying and playing in the State League but I hope that is not the case because I know that it’s important to be training four or five times a week if you are going to make it to a good level and that’s not possible outside of the A-League.

“I try to get on with it because if you put too much pressure on yourself it can have an affect on your confidence so that is what I try to do and keep an open mind. I’m trying to just focus on improving all the time.”

If Dao does manage to make the jump to the A-League the approach of constant improvement will not change. “If I get the chance to sign an A-League contract I know that is where it begins for me.”

For countless NYL players across Australia they will be hoping for the same beginning as Dao.