Former Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets midfielder Riley McGree was honoured with a Civic Reception by Gawler Council on Thursday night.
Back in his hometown after the completion of the Hyundai A-League season, McGree’s achievements in his young career were celebrated at the Gawler Administration Centre alongside Mayor Karen Redman.
The 19-year-old was presented with a Certificate of Recognition by the Gawler Eagles Soccer Club for whom he is the first Club Ambassador.
McGree played his junior soccer with Gawler for eight years before moving to Football Federation South Australia’s National Training Centre.
He made his debut for Adelaide United in March 2016 as an 18-year-old against Western Sydney Wanderers.
Following the reception, McGree returned to Karbeethan Reserve where he talked with the club’s juniors, took photos and signed memorabilia.
Asked how it felt to be back at the club as an Ambassador, McGree said it was an honour to hold the title.
“It is great to be the first Club Ambassador, it holds a special place in my heart because it was the first club I was at and where I grew up playing juniors,” he said.
“Seeing the kids out here, it is great because hopefully they can follow in my footsteps and many other players that have come out of this club.
“Hopefully it can get bigger and that kids want to play here from elsewhere.”
After his breakout debut season for the Reds, the dynamic centre midfielder caught the eye of former Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou and a number of overseas clubs.
McGree would eventually sign with Belgium powerhouse Club Brugge.
Moving abroad at the age of 19, McGree said it was a life-changing move for him both on and off the field.
“That move definitely helped me to mature, not only on the field but also off it, living and learning lessons,” he said.
“Maybe I was not as prepared for the move that I could have been, but you live and you learn and these things happen.
“I will just take whatever happens in my stride and go from there.”
Having struggled to break into the first team, he was sent out on loan where he joined Newcastle Jets.
He grabbed headlines around the world where his acrobatic scorpion kick goal helped the Jets into the A-League Grand Final for the first time since 2008.
However the fairy tale journey would end in heartbreak for the Novocastrians as Kostra Barbarouses’ strike was enough to hand Melbourne Victory their fourth title.
With his time at Newcastle now over, McGree will return to his parent club.
He was coy on revealing what his next move will be, saying that he will find out in the next few weeks what Brugge’s plans were.
However, wherever he ends up, McGree was sure he wanted to thrust himself back into the National team set-up having earned call-ups to the squad for World Cup qualifying matches against Iraq and the UAE last year.
His lack of game time in Belgium though meant he fell off the radar of current coach Bert van Marwijk, with a plethora of talent in the middle of the park ahead of him.
McGree said he would aim to play the best he can to put himself back in the mix.
Returning to the club that started him on this journey, McGree said he owed them a lot.
“I owe a lot to the club, I owe a lot to the coaches who were running it at the time, it is still my hometown,” he said.
“Whenever I look back I realise I have come from here and I learnt so much as junior, all the fundamentals at this club.”
McGree said it was important for him to maintain the connection with his boyhood club to help its growth.