Lawrie McKinna was the coach who gave Mile Jedinak his first big chance in professional football. The following is an extract from Lawrie's biography (published in 2016) in which he discusses Mile's development and impact on the Mariners before going overseas...
During his years coaching Northern Spirit and the Mariners (and also while General Manager of Football), Lawrie signed an impressive list of players who went on to play for the Socceroos and/or have successful careers overseas. Lawrie’s Socceroos include: Mat Ryan, Mark Milligan, Bernie Ibini, James Holland, Trent Sainsbury, Michael Beauchamp, Alex Wilkinson, Matt Simon, Ollie Bozanic and, of course, Mile Jedinak – the Socceroos and Crystal Palace captain. There was also John Hutchinson who became a Maltese international, and others he signed include: Mustafa Amini, Danny Vukovic and Michael McGlinchey. These players are household names today and all have one thing in common – they were given a chance in professional football by Lawrie who must have the best Socceroo conversion rate of any A-League coach.
I’ve said from the start that I never really had a huge amount of footballing talent myself. I was big, fast and strong in the air but that’s about it. Still, I managed to make the best of what I had which enabled me to compete with far more gifted players. And while I may not have shared their gifts – I certainly knew a gift for football when I saw it.
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Without a shadow of a doubt, my greatest success story was Mile Jedinak. The hair rises on the back of my neck just thinking about what that boy’s achieved and I couldnae be prouder that I got to help him on his way.
Back in 2006, I got a phone call from an old mate Nick Vravac – a board member from Sydney Utd (where I’d been assistant to Davy Mitchell). Nick said to me: ‘Lawrie…you’ve got to have a look at Mile.’
‘He’s got the ability to play at any level,’ said Nick, ‘but he’s a bit shy. Will you give him at least three training sessions to see if he’ll come out of his shell and show you what he’s got?’
So I invited young Mile along for a few training runs and it has to be said: he didnae set the world on fire. But he was certainly competent, so I invited him to keep coming. He wisnae being paid for it and, in fact, it was costing him. He had to drive up from Western Sydney for every session and was still working for his old man (John – also a board member at Sydney Utd) as a builder.
Very slowly, young Mile started to impress me. He was big and fearless – strong in the tackle and good in the air – he also had rockets in his boots when it came to shooting but there was no room in the squad. I would’ve had to let someone else go to make room for him and that’s not my style. So Mile kept paying his own way to train and I think he was fairly close to packing it in to concentrate on building. He probably reached his lowest ebb when we took him up to Toowoomba to play in a preseason game against the Roar. The night before the match, we’re out for our usual post-dinner stroll and Mile approached me and said: ‘Gaffer…I don’t feel too good.’