Australian goalkeeper Harrison Devenish-Meares has signed a professional deal with Rapid Bucuresti and is out to make his name with the Romanian giants.
Overlooked by the A-League, the Sydneysider cut his teeth with Northern Tigers before heading to the United States to play college football three years ago.
After graduating at the end of 2019, Devenish-Meares moved to Europe to try his luck.
With a brief spell at fourth division club Bucharest United under his belt earlier this year, the 23-year-old impressed at the Giuleștenii on trial and agreed terms this month.
“Signing my first professional contract for a club like this is just a dream come true,” he told The World Game. “It is such a big club here in Romania.
"They have a really loud, passionate and aggressive fanbase. It is exactly what you’re dreaming of as a kid.
“The training sessions are amazing, the players are really good. It’s step up for me. The biggest challenge for me is cultural.
“I’ve been learning the language for the past six months so I’ve got a good grasp of it. I’m starting to get the hang of it.”
Devenish-Meares’ journey into professional football is a mixture of hard work, dedication and good fortune, with his move to Romania helped through family connections.
A FIFA-sanctioned transfer ban against Rapid initially stopped his signing with the Romanian Liga II club, but now the official confirmation has come through.
“My girlfriend is Romanian and her dad came to watch a game whole I was playing in college in America,” he explained.
“And he said you should really think about coming over, there’s a lot of teams in Romania and you’ve have a good chance of getting picked up. So I came over for Christmas, I went straight in with Rapid.
“I had a meeting with the president at the time. I treated it like it was an interview for any job. I tried to show them who I was, and I think they were impressed.
“The president at the time had played with [former Socceroo] Ryan Griffiths. He sort of said to me in passing that Ryan was a really good professional, a really good guy in the locker room and for that I have a lot of respect for Australian players - 'I hope that’s what you’re going to be like'.
"think I’ve showed that. So thanks to Ryan Griffiths for that. They invited me to trial for a week in January. I trained with them and they said come for another week.
"I did well and then they said we’re going to Turkey and we’ll bring you with us. And then a week into the pre-season camp in Turkey they signed me on terms for six months.
"But they didn’t know they had a FIFA-sanctioned international ban on transfers, they couldn’t sign international players.
“So I was sort of stuck on limbo, my tourist visa was running out real quick and they really wanted me to stay.
"They said if you can stay in the country for six months we’ll sign you in the summer.
“They had a friend who had a club in the fourth league here, who happened to be an Australian owner, and who also happened to be looking for a goalkeeper. I’m a pretty spiritual guy and generally believe that if you’re going for something then the universe gives you some signs that you’re on the right track, and for me that was a big sign.
“An Australian owner and they needed a keeper. His name is Geoffrey Schukraft, he owed a team here called Bucharest United.
“I was with them for a few months then COVID happened and the fourth league never finished. So I was a free agent as of July and signed for Rapid in July and they only announced it now as it took a lot time to get the paperwork done.”
Founded in 1923, Rapid is one of the most successful Romanian clubs with three first division titles, six second division titles, 13 local Cups and four Romanian Super Cups to its name.
In 2006 the Alb-vișiniii reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. But four years ago Rapid went bankrupt and was relegated down to the bottom of the football pyramid.
The club has won three promotions in the past four years and is now eyeing another and a spot back in the Liga 1 next season.
“The club’s on the way up,” Devenish-Meares said. “They’ve had to start at the bottom and work their way up again. We’ve got a good chance of promotion.
"I want to play in the first league, I want to play in the Champions League, the Europa League.
“I got myself to Europe and I know literally from here the sky is the limit and I have high ambitions. As an athlete if you’re not pushing yourself every day, then what’s the point? It was always a goal of mine to play in Europe.”
The shot-stopper grew up in Sydney’s north shore, in the suburb of Gordon, as a Sydney FC fan. Despite a brief spell with former Socceroo Jim Fraser’s goalkeeping academy in Blacktown, a season with Rockdale City, and the occasional training session with the Sky Blues’ National Youth League team, Devenish-Meares’ exposure to the professional ranks was limited.
“No one really gave me a chance in Australia professionally,” he admitted. “That’s why I left and went to college in America, just because I saw it as I need to give myself what I deserve, and I deserve training every day in a professional environment.
“College was exactly that – training every day, high performance athletic environment, the pitches are immaculate, very organised. That’s what put me on the level to be able to sign for Rapid.
“I never would have been at that level training with Northern Tigers twice a week and then training on my own for the rest of the week, it just wasn’t going to happen.”
The keeper thrived in the US, playing for the University of South Florida for two and half years and also had a brief stint with GPS Portland Phoenix in the USL League Two.
Devenish-Meares captained his college team and was named goalkeeper of the week twice, and was selected in the AAC All Academic Team in 2018. For the Phoenix he was picked in the competition’s team of the week and as goalkeeper of the week.
But now the Australian, who idolised Dutch great Edwin van der Sar as a youngster, is chasing his dream in Europe and enjoying the opportunities available in Romania.
“Here the third division is professional, there’s more than 80 teams,” he said. “There’s 21 in the second division, 16 in the first.
"In Romania there’s almost the same population as Australia but five times the professional clubs.
“If you’re willing to sacrifice being away from friends and family, and being in a very foreign culture, then you’ll get an opportunity.
"But that’s not what everyone wants from their life. I want to prove to myself and to others that the sky is limit.”