Western United's Neil Kilkenny has been away from his family for the final weeks of a tough season as he attempts to claim his first A-League Men championship.
When the final whistle pierced the AAMI Park air on Saturday night, Neil Kilkenny was in tears.
Western United had sealed passage to a maiden A-League Men grand final with an extraordinary turnaround against Melbourne Victory, and all of a sudden the 36-year-old is on the verge of glory amid one of the toughest seasons of his career.
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Scenes. Absolute 𝙨𝙘𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙨. pic.twitter.com/Ymk5IXxfl6— Western United FC (@wufcofficial) May 22, 2022
Kilkenny has spent much of the season separated from his partner and their four children in the UK, and also had to head back home in March after the death of his father-in-law.
"In my personal life, I'm obviously going through tough times with my father-in-law's death and being away from my family for such a long period," Kilkenny told the Australian Associated Press.
"When I signed here the borders were open. Within a couple of weeks, they closed for six months and obviously when they did open I got back for three or four days and then five, six weeks later my father-in-law died.
"So I had to then go back to the UK for two and a half weeks. (On Saturday night), I think all the emotions came out at once at that time and it was very emotional."
Neil Kilkenny and his family have temporarily returned to the UK due to the passing of his father-in-law.— Western United FC (@wufcofficial) March 19, 2022
Our thoughts are with Neil and his family, and the players will wear black armbands tonight as a mark of respect. pic.twitter.com/wSCuLiqvC1
Kilkenny's partner Caprice and their four children have remained in the UK since her father's passing, while the midfielder returned to Melbourne to complete United's season.
"If they were in Perth then they could come over or I could get back to them but obviously being such a long journey we can't do that," he said.
"It's been tough but football's my release in a way.
"When I go out on the pitch I'll concentrate on that which is better, but it's obviously the off time that's tough."
Despite his personal situation, vocal midfielder Kilkenny has been a leader throughout United's rise to Saturday's grand final.
"Even with all the difficulties that he's faced, he's here every day giving 100 per cent," coach John Aloisi told AAP, likening him to a "coach on the field."
"That just drives the group as well. When you see your leaders training at an intensity automatically the other players follow."
While away from his family, Kilkenny has lived with two of his younger teammates - Jerry Skotadis and Nicolas Milanovic.
"Since the boss came in he's been so helpful. He's put his trust in me and gives me the confidence to come in and do my job."— Western United FC (@wufcofficial) May 25, 2022
Nicolas Milanovic has been loving life under John Aloisi this season.
It's something he's enjoyed, when their paths actually cross.
"They're good boys. They play PlayStation all the time," he said.
"I come in from training and they're playing PlayStation. I go to bed they're playing PlayStation. I wake up and they're still in bed when I leave.
"They're good guys and I've really enjoyed actually seeing how they live and getting to know them off the pitch."
Spending time with his younger teammates while enjoying working under former Socceroos teammate Aloisi, has Kilkenny hoping their paths will cross again when his playing days are over.
Aloisi was on the pitch when Kilkenny made his international debut, coming on as a late substitute in a 2006 World Cup warm-up game against Liechtenstein.
Kilkenny also crossed paths with Tony Popovic as both a player and coach, while watching on as former Leeds teammate and friend Patrick Kisnorbo made the successful transition at Melbourne City.
"It's funny obviously being one of the older players here now. I look at players and I'm like 'I could actually be your dad,'" he said.
"Hopefully one day I might get the opportunity to coach a couple of them because the age gap is quite funny.
"It's similar with obviously me and the boss, we had a little crossover like I had with Popa and obviously playing with Melbourne City's manager now. It's a funny dynamic.
"I would love to go into coaching and management, and I've learned a lot over off the coaches here."
After originally joining United as an injury replacement signing, Kilkenny has played almost every game.
But he's uncertain whether he'll play a second season in green and black.
"It's a difficult situation. With my family situation it's been tough emotionally for all of us," he said.
"I haven't seen my kids really grow up this year. I've got a one-year-old. I missed their first Christmas, first steps, I've missed everything, so we'll see what happens.
"I'll speak to my Mrs at the end of the season and go from there.
"My Mrs deserves massive credit. It's been a tough 10 months but obviously over the last eight weeks not having her partner there to support them through such a difficult period, she deserves massive credit and I owe her a lot."
But before he makes that call, Kilkenny wants to complete his haul of Australian trophies.
"I went to Melbourne City and helped them win their first trophy, the FFA Cup and obviously then went to Perth and helped them get their first bit of silverware and win the league there," Kilkenny said.
"This is the only trophy that I haven't got at the minute.
"Hopefully I can help Western United win the grand final and that will be a fantastic day for myself and for the club."
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