BRIGHTON Mhlongo used to wait for Senzo Meyiwa to return from Bafana Bafana camps to hear about the inspiring stories of international football.
Mhlongo, the Orlando Pirates goalkeeper who was an understudy to the late Meyiwa, believed that he would one day represent his country at senior level and had to wait patiently, as he worked hard behind the scenes to try make his dream come true.
That wait to become part of the senior national team is finally over, thanks to some excellent performances for the Buccaneers this season. Mhlongo is part of the Bafana squad that will play against Gambia in Bakau on Saturday, which is a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group M qualifier.
“Senzo and I used to share a lot of things. He would go play for the squad and come back to tell me about the training methods because goalkeepers coaches differ wherever you go. I would picture myself in the team and how I would handle the different situations, so I think that helped a lot.
“I would envy him and wish I was there, so now this is my chance and I have to work hard to cement my spot,” he said.
“I also talk to guys like Thabo (Matlaba) and (Thamsanqa) Gabuza about their experiences in the national team, so that I know what’s expected of me when I am in the team. I am really grateful.
“It shows that I have been putting in a lot of work. My patience has paid off and it shows that I am growing.”
Having Rowen Fernandez as a goalkeeper coach at Pirates has also helped Mhlongo prepare for his first national team camp.
Fernandez played for the national team and he is pushing Mhlongo to work even harder to ensure that he keeps his place in the squad.
“Rowen was there in the national team. When I received the news that I have been called up, he is the one who congratulated me.
“He sent me an SMS, saying we need to talk. He said that we need to work harder to keep my spot in the team. I do not just want to add numbers in the squad,” said Mhlongo.
“I am competing with two of the best goalkeepers in the country (Itumeleng Khune and Jackson Mabokgwane), so it motivates me.”
Bafana Bafana are in third place in the group on three points. The national team has two matches left to play.