Oakleigh Cannons’ fantasy run may be over but their 14-year-old goalkeeper, Ymer Abili, was left in dreamland as the youngest player ever to grace the Australia Cup.
Less than 24 hours after another schoolboy, Christopher Atherton, became the youngest ever to appear in any senior match in the UK at 13, Abili beamed his own way into Australian football annals with his cameo appearance in the Cannons’ semi-final defeat by Macarthur.
With the Victorian semi-pro side’s run about to be ended by Macarthur, who were leading 5-2 in the dying minutes, Cannons’ coach Chris Taylor took the chance to give Abili, who usually plays for their Under-14s, his moment.
Taking him off the bench at Oakleigh’s Jack Edwards Reserve, the youngster could not keep the smile off his face as he was told to replace experienced keeper Lewis Italiano, who is over twice Abili’s age at 31.
After getting a roaring reception from the home fans as he came on, Ymer did not concede any more goals as Macarthur took their expected place in the final against Sydney United.
Explaining that the substitution had been pre-planned for the final moments should the Cannons be on their way out, Abili told Network 10: “85th minute, I think. He [Taylor] said, ‘warm up’ – I was buzzing, so happy!”
There was a nerve-racking moment in the final seconds when Abili looked as if he would have to deal with a corner, but he just shrugged: “I was just excited to go on and make history, that’s it.”
And asked if he perhaps should have been brought on earlier, he shrugged with a smile, “I don’t know … [it was] Chris Taylor’s call, not mine!”
His mum said she was “a nervous wreck”. “I’ve been nervous all night. I’m so proud of Ymer, he trains really, really hard for the last couple of years.”
The Cannons hailed their young history maker with a celebratory tweet. “We are extremely proud! What an incredible night to see our 14 year old keeper Abili make his debut!! An historical moment for our club and for the Australia Cup!!”
But not even Abili could match the feat thousands of miles away as Atherton, aged 13 years and 329 days, broke a UK record that had lasted for 42 years as he came on as a second-half sub for Glenavon against Dollingstown in Northern Ireland’s League Cup.
Even more extraordinarily, his first touch was to set up his side’s final goal in their 6-0 win. Atherton is almost a year younger than the record holder as the UK’s youngest professional player, Eamon Collins, who made his Blackpool debut at 14 years 323 days in 1980.