If football can be all about timing, then Birmingham City loanee Riley McGree may have got his just about right, as he targets a Socceroos breakthrough and an Olympic Games adventure in the coming months
Left largely on the Championship shelf during former coach Aitor Karanka’s St Andrews reign, McGree, 22, is enjoying a renaissance under recently-appointed replacement Lee Bowyer.
Yet to play in a beaten side in four successive appearances - two wins and two draws - McGree’s return after three months on the fringes has coincided with the Blues climbing 10 points clear of the drop zone.
And the comeback has placed him centre stage of Graham Arnold’s plans for either Australia’s June FIFA World Cup hub in Kuwait, or the Maurice Revello Tournament in Toulon, which runs simultaneously and will feature the Olyroos in their build-up to July’s Tokyo Games.
Relishing a hectic, and potentially career-enhancing few months, McGree said: “It’s been really positive the last four weeks - personally and as a team.
“We don’t want to get relegated and are doing our best to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“On a personal level getting game time is awesome. I’ve been working hard and it’s finally starting to pay off.
“(With a hectic Olyroos and Socceroos program ahead) It’s kind of perfect timing.
“Obviously I would’ve loved to have played more early on and towards the middle of the season.
“But if there’s a time you could choose (to be playing) it would be now coming into important tournaments (the Olympic Games and World Cup qualifiers).
“There are a lot of opportunities coming up and hopefully I’ll get a chance to be part of things.”
After a promising start to his Midlands move - a season-long loan from MLS expansion club Charlotte - in which he scored once in eight appearances, McGree was placed in deep freeze by Karanka.
But he refused to allow the setback to undermine his self-belief, and he bided his time.
“Under the previous coach it was a bit confusing,” he added.
“But there was a bit more to it with our position on the table, other than the fact that I just wasn’t playing.
“I just kept on believing in myself. I know what I’m capable of and that I’m good enough to play at this level.
“I could tell by the way I performed in training.
“I just kept going but I’m still not where I want to be, even in the games I’ve played.
“I’ve got a long way to go, which is exciting, and I’m hungry for more.
“I’ve kept a positive mindset and I knew my time was going to come.”
McGree said former Charlton coach Bowyer had “freshened things up” and has a club that has lived in the shadow of neighbours Aston Villa for too long facing in the right direction.
“He’s not afraid to give people a chance and put his trust in players to the previous coach might not have,” he said.
“If you perform well in training you’ll get your opportunity.”
The ex-Newcastle and Adelaide playmaker has featured as a No.10 in his last three games, a preferred role that has seen him prosper.
Referring to what lies ahead with Australia, he added: “It’s been a long season ... a lot of hard work but there are a lot of players doing well in both the A-League and overseas, so there’s hot competition which is very good for the national teams going forward.
“I think our (Olympic) draw (two-time champions Argentina, Spain and Egypt) is awesome - it will really show where we are at. To be the best you have to beat the best.”
Asked if the Championship was what he expected, McGree replied: “Before coming I was told it was one of the most intense and fast leagues in Europe.
“You definitely have to be on your toes when the ball is coming because someone is on you and kicking you.
“It’s a tough league and a very high standard and it’s somewhere I like being around for sure.
“I’ve improved out of sight since first coming here. Your decision-making has to be right up there.
“Physically, it’s also definitely toughened me up.”