Leeds United v Doncaster Rovers: Neill is on a mission to join the Socceroos in Brazil

Australia's captain Lucas Neill
Australia's captain Lucas Neill
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AS Lucas Neill stood practically shivering at Doncaster Rovers’ Cantley Park training ground on Thursday, thoughts of the Copacabana beach had instant appeal.

You can confidently say that there will not be many 36-year-old’s strutting their stuff at this summer’s World Cup carnival in Brazil but the proud Australian is aiming to be one of them.

But first things first.

The Sydneysider has linked up with former Blackburn Rovers team-mate and Doncaster manager Paul Dickov not for the sun.

Neill has been brought in on a month’s loan from Watford to help Rovers over the line while the bullets are flying at the bottom of the Championship.

Leadership, experience, desire and professionalism were some of the words used to describe Neill’s footballing DNA by Dickov this week.

One telling sentence gripped you instantly. He’s a ‘proper man’, said the Rovers chief, whose emphatic tone when asked if the defender was ready to play in today’s Yorkshire derby at Leeds United also spoke volumes.

Even if Neill was struggling to fend off the cold at his first day in training.

That said, you sense if selected that the cauldron of Elland Road today would be right up his street.

A little further on the horizon is the World Cup with the Socceroos, with Neill having not been immune from criticism from the surprisingly demanding football media in Australia, with the likes of Mark Bosnich casting aspersions to his claims for Brazil due to his age.

The past year has seen Neill not offered a contract extension by first Sydney FC and then Japanese outfit Omiya Ardija.

He is clearly doing things the hard way.

Neill also did not exactly enjoy vintage spells in the Gulf either with Al Jazira and Al Wasl, as he donned the guise of Aussie backpacker in the footballing sphere.

After training with former club Blackburn, his next port of call was Watford and now Doncaster and while he faces a race against the clock to propel himself to the forefront of Australian selectors’ minds, he is typically driven in winning that challenge.

Neill, who has 95 caps for Australia, said: “I came back to England determined to play in the lead-up to hopefully getting picked for a World Cup.

“The greatest honour you can do is play in a World Cup for your country. Potentially, it could be my third and they are amazing events, each and every time and something you only get a chance to do once every four years.

“For me being the age I am, it’s definitely going to be my last chance as a player.

“So I am going to give myself the very best chance of playing there. But to do that, I have to perform here.”

On the prospect of a potential debut at Leeds, he is also effusive.

He said: “It’s a huge club and I have already been made aware of the rivalry and for all sorts of reasons, I’d like Doncaster to get off to a good start in my career here, but also because the team needs the points.

“I have a few memories of Leeds and one of my closest team-mates (at Australia) became heroes there in Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka and we had some good battles playing there, while I watched a very successful Leeds team play in the Champions League when I was there at Blackburn.

“I am excited to be part of a team who travel there to play in front of a big crowd of maybe 30,000.”

At this stage of the season, commonly referred to as ‘squeaky-bum time’ by those in the footballing fraternity, you need people you can trust when issues and even livelihoods are at stake.

The trust between Dickov and his ex-team-mate is obvious with the respect reciprocal. That is something the defender is seeking to earn from his new team-mates.

It is the only ‘R’ word he is interested in.

Neill said: “Paul knows how desperate I am to play first-team football. I am here and excited.

“I was a little bit frustrated at Watford sitting on the bench, it’s not what I’m used to.

“I am looking forward to working hard and earning the respect of my new team-mates and getting a chance to be involved. But I have to earn that right. Hopefully, I will be a part of a successful end to the season at Doncaster.

“There was a natural respect between Paul and I on the field as players. We both have a passion for the game and a lot of commitment and desire to win.

“Certainly, I haven’t lost that hunger and by the way Paul is talking now, he hasn’t lost it either.

“I have experienced and educated myself a lot in the past couple of years. But my passion for the game has never changed. I know what is expected in the English league.”