The life of a second-choice keeper is a long and lonely road, one of the toughest roles in professional football.

You can wait ages for a chance, for a crack at the top level, but that can disappear in a instant.

Just ask Italiano.

The 29-year-old has been in and around the A-League for nearly a decade. He had two spells with Perth Glory, his hometown club, without making a first-team appearance.

Eventually he made his debut for Wellington in April 2015, in the final round of the 2014/15 campaign, in a 2-1 loss to Sydney FC.

But Italiano did not play a game the following season, and then racked up just five matches in 2016/17 and then 13 the season after that.

Most of his time at Phoenix was spent as second-string to veteran Glen Moss, so much so that he had splinters from sitting on the bench so often.

But the keeper did not complain or whinge, he keep returning to the NPL every winter to hone his craft and get games under his belt.

Italiano's career started in the Western Australia NPL with the likes of Stirling Lions, Balcatta and Inglewood Inited, and each A-League off-season he has gone back to the NPL, to Oakleigh, ECU Joondalup, Bulleen and Stirling, as well as spending time in New Zealand's ISPS Handa Championship, to keep improving.

"If I wasn’t getting game-time in the A-League season I was going back in the winter and playing in the NPL," he explained to FTBL.

"I spent a bit of time in Melbourne with Oakleigh Cannons and Bulleen, and going back to some of my local clubs like Stirling and Balcatta. To go and get some game time, and to be home as well, it meant a lot and getting experience as well, it was good.

"[But] It’s very mentally-challenging."

He was first signed to Wellington by Ernie Merrick, and then to Newcastle in 2018 by Merrick again.

"Ernie dragged me a long, when I was a young 22-year-old, over to Phoenix," Italiano said.

"I gained a lot of respect for Ernie, he was a good mentor to have as a coach."