On the eve of Olyroos first match at the Olympics since 2008, Former Olyroo and professional footballer Jonny McKain recounts his journey to, and experience at, the 2004 Athens Olympics, representing Australia at the biggest multi-sport tournament on the globe. In his role with PFA as Player Relations Manager, he now provides support to the next generation who are following in his footsteps.

It was always a dream of mine to play at the Olympic games, to represent my country and to be an Olympian.  I remember sitting around with my family at home watching the TV as a child and falling in love with the whole concept of the Olympics.  It was exciting. 

The 2000 Sydney Olympics was unreal, and I was fortunate to train with the side on the Gold Coast during their preparations, as they were short on numbers for a few days, which was amazing experience.  

I ventured overseas to play football in 2002 and managed to settle and adapt well in my new environment so when the 2004 Olympics was being considered, I was in the mix and playing well. It was a very proud moment for me and my family when I received the call to say “congratulations you are selected for the Athens Olympics!”

I still remember the phone call and the moment.  I had just finished training for my club side in Romania and had a missed call and message from the national team manager saying they would like to talk to me. I remember I had very mixed emotions as you are just hoping it will be good news. I went into the club training ground lunchroom and when I returned the call, I knew straight away that it was positive news due to the tone in their voice and I couldn’t stop smiling when they told me of my selection.

It was a surreal experience being at the Olympics surrounded by world class stars.  I remember some of the basketball players from other countries and how gigantic these guys were. They were absolute units. The food hall at the village was massive and it was strange to simply walk up to a bistro and order what you want and not have to pay for it.  I remember that McDonald’s was a sponsor and to watch some of these world class athletes order and eat Maccas made me laugh (many of them got knocked out early….. I’m looking at you Andy Roddick). 

One issue we had was due to the fact the football tournament was so long, we started before the Opening Ceremony and our first few games were not in Athens, rather on the island of Crete.  We only really experienced the Village and atmosphere for a few days when our last group game was there and consequently we only managed to go and support the beach volleyball women, due to our schedule.  Once your tournament ends, you need to leave the Village within days so it’s not like you can hang around and party.  Many of us had to get back to our clubs straight afterwards so it was a fairly sudden ending.

Competing at the Olympics is one of my proudest footballing moments.  When I was a child, all I dreamed about was the competing at the Olympic games, not a World Cup, so to make that dream a reality, I will treasure forever.  I’m very humbled but also extremely proud of the fact I can call myself an Olympian.

The matches were challenging but to be honest we had a great side and coaching staff.  We were confident going into the tournament we could make a big impact. The overaged players that were selected – Tim Cahill, Johnny Aloisi, Craig Moore – were the spine; seasoned Socceroos and excellent leaders. We drew with Tunisia in the first game and beat Serbia and Montenegro in the second comfortably. Unfortunately, I picked up two yellow cards in these two games, so I was suspended for the third match against eventual gold medallists Argentina.  We lost this match 1-0 but progressed through to the quarter finals.  We played against Iraq and still to this day, I don’t know how we didn’t win. We absolutely dominated but simply couldn’t score and ended up losing 1-0 and being eliminated.  That’s tournament football unfortunately and this game I will remember vividly forever.

Iraklion (Heraklion), GREECE: Serbia and Montenegro’s Goran Lovre (R) vies for the ball against Austalia’s Jon McKain, 14 August 2004 in Herakion, during the Olympic group C men’s football first round match. AFP PHOTO/ STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Now in my role with the PFA it has really been one of communication to the players and staff heading to Tokyo.  I’ve been in constant dialogue with a few of them to make sure everything is OK and there are no concerns or worries.  They’ve had a solid preparation period leading into the tournament (although Covid conditions have made it challenging) and all the boys are excited and ready to roll. They all are aware that the PFA is there to support them whenever they need. We are their union. 

I hope and know that they will all have fond memories that will last a lifetime.  There aren’t too many people who can say they went to an Olympic Games and represented their whole country and it will be a very proud moment for every one of them. There will be excitement and nerves but this is all part of the adventure.

My one piece of advice would be to simply enjoy the moment.  It’s an amazing life experience they will never forget. Don’t overthink things as they are well prepared and have excellent coaching and support staff to assist.  Each player deserves to be selected and now is their time to make a name for themselves.

I can’t wait to watch them play on Thursday night and best wishes to them all.