When persistent rain made Central Coast Stadium unplayable for the F3 Derby, the general feeling was one of disappointment.
Despite being made to wait another week for his long-awaited debut, the week off meant Brian Kaltak’s Round 2 debut against Wellington in New Zealand, a place where the defender spent most of his career, even more special.
“It was exciting, New Zealand is where I started my football career, and to make my debut over there in front of the families that I’ve been with for all those years, it is a remarkable moment for me and for them as well,” Kaltak told The Inner Sanctum.
When it came to nerves though, Kaltak felt right at home approaching his first professional game, his relaxed attitude and strong performance earning him rave reviews.
“Many people were asking me if I was nervous, but I wasn’t. It is a long pre-season and I’ve been starting most of the games. Playing helps get my confidence higher so coming into my debut I was okay, I think I killed it yeah!”
Despite finally breaking into a professional setup, the journey has not been a smooth one for Kaltak.
He nearly saw his opportunity vanish when he got injured during an initial trial with the Mariners towards the back end of the 2021/22 A-League Men season.
“The reason I came to Australia is because of coach Josh Smith, he’s the one that made everything happen for me here, the trial and everything,” he explained.
“He was at the Mariners with Nick Montgomery and he gave me that opportunity to come and trial, but I got injured during it.”
With the season concluding and Kaltak still injured, he followed Smith to South Australian NPL side FK Beograd, where the latter assumed a job in the coaching setup, to continue his rehab.
After getting fit, the club gave Kaltak the opportunity to play, one that he took with both hands. He left the locals impressed, including notoriously hard-to-please coach Damian Mori.
“It was good, it is a very different league compared to New Zealand where I came from,” he said.
“Playing under Damian was different class, he is the type of coach everyone is scared of! He’s good, he gave me a chance to play over there and he was impressed with my performance, and I can’t thank him enough for the opportunity.
“It was exciting, it is a good club with good people down there. I impressed them and they wanted me to stay, but my goal was different.”
When Nick Montgomery called the fit-again defender with an offer to join the Mariners for pre-season, Kaltak was “buzzing.” That opportunity later turned into an injury replacement contract for forward Moresche.
Montgomery was asked before the Mariners’ Round 2 match what impressed him the most about Kaltak, before responding that it would be a harder question asking him what had not impressed.
He claimed that if the Mariners had a visa spot available when the defender was trialling, he would have signed him after one day.
Kaltak obviously shares a similar sentiment for his new coach, something that he was not shy to share with The Inner Sanctum.
“I’ve worked with so many coaches in my football career, but Nick is unbelievable, he is next-class,” he said.
“He knows all about football, he played in the Premier League, and working with him is a privilege, he was a great player and a great coach now.
“He gave me this opportunity and I cannot thank him enough. Every day going to training I am so excited because every day when I see him, I know I will learn new things from him.”
Not many players get their first big break so late in their careers, with clubs like the Mariners and coaches like Montgomery that are willing to take risks on potentially unknown quantities being the exception, not the rule.
This is a story all too familiar for not just ni-Vanuatu footballers, but for Pacific Islanders in general.
Being his national team’s captain and now becoming one part of its small professional footballer fraternity, Kaltak is embracing being a role model, admitting that it is a major reason he has pursued a professional opportunity in football relentlessly.
“I feel privileged leading the team, being part of the Vanuatu National Team, and setting an example for others to follow,” he said.
“When we grow up this is what we want to be, to get a professional contract one day. I just want to give them hope, not just for Vanuatu but all the Pacific Islanders. If I can make it this far, there is nothing that can stop them, they can do it as well, I love motivating others.
“For me to do this, the one thing that keeps me going is that I want to motivate others and I want them not to give up on their dreams. This is what keeps me going and working hard, I want to open doors for the others, not just me, I want to make paths for these kids growing up.”
Players like Roy Krishna, Mitch Cooper, and Jared Clark have represented the Pacific Islands on the lists of A-League teams, but Kaltak wants clubs to know that that part of the world has much more to offer.
“The thing I always say is give them a chance! We’ve got some really good talent in the Pacific but we just lack the chance to be in this environment, an opportunity to play in this big league and to express ourselves,” he said.
“I think if more players could come in the academies and grow up in this kind of environment, if any A-League clubs allowed them to do that, you’d see lots of players come up.
“There is a lot of talent Pacific that are looking for this kind of opportunity, they want to break barriers one day.”
Australia may be competing in the Asian Football Confederation, but since it still geographically belongs to Oceania, A-Leagues, and NPL clubs, especially with a National Second Division imminent, would be amiss to not take advantage of the largely untapped Pacific Islands football scene.
Even though Kaltak makes for a great story of hope and perseverance, hopefully, the next generation of talented Pacific Islanders should not have to wait until age 29 for a professional opportunity.
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