Growing up opposite Churchill Reserve, home of St Albans Dinamo, Tom and Ollie Pondeljak were always destined to take up soccer.
Their dad, Drago, took them across the road to kick a ball about at every opportunity and their natural talent and speed soon attracted the attention of club officials.
Ollie, the older by four years, was first to join the club, leaving Tom tugging at dad’s shirt, asking why he was being left out.
Many years later, Ollie graduated to the Melbourne Knights where he achieved national prominence, while Tom was just starting to break into the St Albans seniors.
“He was always ahead of me and there were always the comparisons, ” Tom said yesterday. “People were always looking at me, asking whether I’d do as well as Ollie.
“When he joined the Knights, I’d go to watch and I remember hoping that one day, I’d be there too, playing as well as him.”
This season, Tom has overtaken Ollie.
In the Ericsson Cup grand final against Marconi at Olympic Park on Sunday, Tom will be one of the Knights’ most potent weapons. Ollie will be on the bench.
“It’s OK. I’m not jealous. We don’t take the piss out of each other,” Ollie said.
“He’s just improved tremendously. He’s with better players than he was at St Albans now and he’s much more dedicated.
” But Tom was under no illusion that he had suddenly become better than his brother. Ollie would be one of the Knights’ main men, he said, were it not for injuries.
“Of all the players in the league, he’s one of the most exciting to watch,” Tom said.
Ollie, described by former Knights coach Mirko Bazic as being good enough to play anywhere in Europe, got his chance in January with the Segesta club of Croatia but returned in March with a groin injury.
It is the fourth season in a row that he has broken down.
“It all stems from the lower back,” he said. “When that gets aggravated, anything can go – the hamstring, groin, thigh.
Before every match I have to have the back massaged for 15 or 20 minutes. It’s really frustrating.”
When he does appear, as he has a few times recently, he remains an awesome speedster.
Tom, who was joint winner of the Victorian Premier League best player award last season, looks nothing like Ollie but their playing styles are identical. They love to take on opponents at full speed.
In two semi-final matches against Marconi, Tom shattered Marconi flanker Brendan Renaud – and he intends to do so again on Sunday.
“The first time I played against him I thought he was a really good player, very skilful and fast – and I still think so,” Tom said. “But when things aren’t going his way he tends to make silly errors and I’ve been exploiting that.”
Ollie predicted the Knights would win 2-0 and that Tom would score at least one of the goals. Tom was silent.