Aussie ‘brothers’ take long road to Olympic dream

20 Jul 2021
  • Cameron Devlin & Keanu Baccus' friendship has taken them from suburban fields to the Olympic stage

  • Born on the same day, the pair are revelling in being together at the iconic sporting event

  • Australia will return to the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament after 13 years

Cameron Devlin and Keanu Baccus were in their mid-teens when they first found themselves on the same pitch together starting their football odyssey with Western Sydney Wanderers' youth team. On the field, their midfield chemistry was immediate. Off it, they were soon best of mates. Remarkably they were even born on the same day – 7 June 1998. Promising youngsters yes, but like many others there was no guarantee their respective careers would progress. But fast-forward several years and that promise has turned to the dreamlike heights of the world’s greatest multi-sport event – the Olympic Games. In two days, the pair will prepare to line up as Australia end a 13-year absence from the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in their Tokyo 2020 opener against Argentina at the futuristic Sapporo Dome. It is a long way, in every sense, from their starts on the humble football fields of suburban Sydney under the careful guidance of Trevor Morgan, Australia’s highly-regarded star-maker and current national U-17s coach. “We were really close when we were at the Wanderers playing alongside each other in the midfield,” Devlin tells FIFA.com from the team’s base in Hokkaido, sitting alongside Baccus, with the camaraderie between the pair immediately apparent. “To be in the Olympic outfit together now is really special and a dream come true. Playing against each other now in the A-League is always a good laugh and going at each other a bit, but having a good time. “When he [Baccus] made the [Wanderers] first team before me I had to leave the club so I could catch up to him!" Both players were among a large group of contenders jousting to be among just 16 outfield spots on the roster. Devlin, in fact, was initially named as a travelling reserve only to be called up with the recent approval of an increased 22-player roster. “You could say we are both fighting for a spot, but we don’t look at it like that,” Devlin said. “We both try and help each other and be the best we can possibly be. Being good mates makes that a lot easier.”

South African-born Baccus says one of his first stops after Tokyo 2020 will be getting the five Olympic rings added to his growing tattoo collection. “[Being an Olympian] is an amazing feeling,” he said. “It means the world to me.” The pair bounce off each other’s energy and both talk with a sunny tone of optimism on every topic. “It just means extra time to grow, play more matches and be better players,” Baccus said when asked if the long gap between qualifying and the Olympics was a hindrance. “That just means a lot of things can happen in that time, but we had faith that this [Olympics] would happen eventually.” The draw did Australia few favours with matches also looming against Spain and Argentina in what coach Graham Arnold called the “group of dreams”. That blend of positivity and optimism has the Olyroos’ squad boasting a strong bond. “It feels like we have never left camp in Thailand,“ Baccus added in reference to the team’s successful qualification campaign some 18 months ago. “There is a good family culture here, we all like being around each other and I think that will show come game one.” No matter what happens on their respective football journeys, the pair will always be Olympians. “It is a pretty surreal feeling to be honest,” Devlin said. “It is something that all of us have probably dreamt about for four or five years now. To put the (national) team gear on every morning is pretty special and something we are all very grateful for. “As a kid, I always thought it would be cool to be an Olympian. It won’t sink in for a couple of days until we get the first game over, but we are just absolutely loving it.”