From facing Paul Pogba in Turkey to winning the Isuzu UTE A-League under Ange Postecoglou, Sydney FC centre back James Donachie holds a fascinating football story.
The Sky Blues defender, who was born in Brisbane, has collected three A-League Championships across a career which has also taken him to South Korea and India.
And it all started with the former coach of the Socceroos…
“I played at Rochedale Rovers when I was 16 or 17 and then that’s when Ange [Postecoglou] came to Brisbane Roar and we played him in a friendly game and he brought me in,” said Donachie.
“He was my first professional coach and obviously I hadn’t had anyone before him as a professional coach so Ange set the standard very high and it was intense every day.
“Now knowing and looking back at what the training was like, the team and what he was like, it’s clear why he’s so successful.
“I got a good break and just hit the ground running and kept going from there. Whether it was timing or luck or that Ange just happened to get to Brisbane at that point in his career and I happened to be there, I just got very lucky and I learnt a lot very quickly.”
Winning two A-League Championships at Brisbane Roar, one in 2011/12 under Ange Postecoglou and another in 2013/14 under Mike Mulvey, Donachie became accustomed to success in his young career.
The 29-year-old represented the Australian national side at U23 and U20 levels, competing in the 2013 FIFA U20 World Cup in Turkey against the world’s best youth players.
“We played Pogba and France won it! And then you’re like, ‘oh yeah, he went on to be a world-class player,’ which is surreal when you think about it,” said Donachie.
“And then in the 23’s we played Brazil, we played Germany. You learn a lot and you meet such good boys that you’re friends with for life.
“Players like Josh Brillante, Terry Antonis, Adam Taggart, it was a very good group that came through and produced players that played for the Socceroos.”
Recognised for his success at Brisbane and the Australian youth teams, Donachie earnt a move to Melbourne Victory in 2016 where he linked up with then Head Coach Kevin Muscat, a former defender for the Socceroos.
“Muscie [Kevin Muscat] is quite aggressive but I really enjoyed it!” Donachie said.
“The difference with Ange is that he was in and out of everything, across everything, where Muscie was as well, he definitely had his ideas, but he was a centre back and a right back so he was in my area as a player.
“He had a lot of little insights which really helped me in my time there.”
After making 88 appearances for the Victory and winning the A-League Grand Final in 2018, Donachie jetted overseas to South Korea – joining Jeonnam Dragons in the first tier of the K-League.
“It was difficult at the start because we didn’t have a translator!” Donachie said.
“The training’s very fast, the training’s really intense and they work very hard so you need to keep your body fit and there’s very technical players too so I learnt a lot.
“When I got there the team were struggling a bit and in Korea the bottom six go into a relegation playoff … so things were quite tense and we had four or five foreigners so a lot is on you to deliver and we had to deal with the pressures of that and fighting to the very end.
“I always say to my parents that flight home from Korea was one of the best flights I’ve ever had! Just to have a break was nice because it was quite intense.”
After a year abroad in South Korea, Donachie would then apply his trade in India for eight months, representing FC Goa in the Indian Super League.
The centre half made 23 appearances for the club across the 2020/21 season, losing out to Adam Le Fondre’s Mumbai City on penalties in the semi-finals.
“I think it challenged me mentally more than anything,” said Donachie. “I was there by myself but the first two or three months was really exciting meeting new people and the Indian players were really good guys, just friendly guys and easy to get along with.
“All the players were in the same hotel for eight months together during COVID so you build a family environment but you can’t go out or go certain places of the hotel, it was very restricted. The last four or five months, mentally you wanted to get out of there.
“The very last month they eased restrictions and we were allowed to go out and about for like two weeks, so I was able to see a bit of Goa which was quite cool.
“All the food was spicy man! But their level of spice is so high that eating a normal meal is spicy. I never liked spice but I adapted and I can have a little bit now and it’s okay!”
After his spell on the subcontinent, Donachie signed for Sydney FC in July of 2021, going on to make 36 appearances for the Sky Blues.
The defender is enjoying life at the harbourside club and the perks of playing in Sydney – touring Bondi with Englishman Joe Lolley in his spare time.
“I live in Bondi so I love coffee!” Donachie said. “Me and Joe have been in and around the cafes and restaurants in Bondi checking it all out.
“Either Ravesis, Beach Road Hotel and for cafes we’re always at Depot or Skittle Lane, which is probably the best coffee in my personal opinion.
“I’m enjoying life outside football so I will try anything and everything and being near the beach I probably swim most days when it’s good weather.”
Enjoying what Sydney has to offer off the field, Donachie remains fully focused on delivering for the Sky Blues on the pitch too – calling upon his unique global career.