Jacob Dowse is confident his injury woes are behind him and the best is yet to come as he looks to set this year’s NPL Men’s NNSW competition alight.
But it hasn’t been easy for Dowse, with the 21-year-old convinced his career was over before it even began after a string of serious knee injuries.
The pacey Broadmeadow Magic striker has been one of the in-form sharpshooters to start the year and has helped his side into a new era after the exit of some of the club’s most experienced players including James and Luke Virgili, Mitch Rooke and Matt Hoole.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the Newcastle Jets youth product, with Dowse battling recurring knee issues including three anterior cruciate ligament injuries that would see him undergo five major knee operations before the age of 19.
An early retirement seemed to be the only option for the up-and-coming star. While his talent was undeniable as a teenager, Dowse was left to ponder whether football was going to be in his future.
But through the help of surgeons and a hamstring graft from his father coupled with his unrelenting passion for football, Dowse returned to the pitch to continue his pursuit of one day becoming a professional footballer.
The 21-year-old recognises he is one of the senior players at the club now after arriving in 2017 but said it seemed like yesterday that he was an eight-year-old heading down to his local ground at South Cardiff, spending every spare moment he had with a football at his feet.
“Every day I was down at the field after school. I spray painted goals on a fence actually,” Dowse said.
“My father played local rugby league, so it wasn’t like he forced me into [football]. I just started kicking the ball around and I was pretty good at it. I was down at the field every afternoon, sometimes by myself and sometimes with my brother.
“I played with South Cardiff from under-6s to under-10s and then I was brought over to the Jets Youth program. They were called the Skilleroo’s then. From there I was put into the Emerging Jets program from about 12-years-old.
“From when I joined the Emerging Jets program in 2013 to 2017 when I eventually left, I probably only played about two full seasons because of my injuries.”
It was through the Emerging Jets program that Dowse would meet future Newcastle Jets players Angus Thurgate and Noah James, who he now lives with.
But it was with the Emerging Jets that Dowse’s struggle with knee injuries started, with Dowse suffering a torn ACL in his right knee just before his 13th birthday.
“I did it during a game and it was non-contact. I was running with the ball and just stepped off my right leg and it just buckled,” Dowse said.
“I remember going to the physio and being told I had torn my ACL and I said to her what’s an ACL? I had never heard of it. I thought it would be like a two-month injury and I would be back out there on the field but I ended up being out for almost 15 months.
“It was super tough. I was only 13-years-old and that’s all I did. I lived and breathed football.”
ACL tears in teenagers are generally uncommon and because Dowse was just turning 13 his rehabilitation for the injury was much different. Luckily, his dad was there to help.
“My father gave me his hamstring graft,” Dowse said.
“When you do your ACL, generally you get a graft from your hamstring but because I was so young my dad had an operation to give me a graft from his. My dad would give anything for myself and my brother and he knew how much I loved the game. It was kind of a no-brainer for him.
“My rehabilitation was interesting. My physio’s partner worked at the Jets so I would go on Saturday morning to Jets first team training and do my rehab with [Jets players] Scott Neville and Mitch Cooper who had also done their ACL”.
It was an uphill battle but Dowse returned to the field in 2014 and was ready to take part in the National Youth Championships at the end of the year as a part of the NNSW team. But in the first half of his first game of the competition, Dowse tore his left ACL.
Left to start again with his rehabilitation Dowse returned to the field a year later but devastatingly suffered a similar fate, with the then 15-year-old Dowse again tearing his left ACL.
“Before I was 16 I had three knee surgeries but I returned in 2016 for the Jets and got a full season out,” Dowse said.
“But heading into the next year I decided to leave the Jets and join Broadmeadow Magic. My good mate Jeremy Wilson was there but it was a tough decision to leave. I wanted to make it pro but I felt like I needed a change.
“Angus was really pushing on at this point but because of my injuries I felt like I needed to change and [Wilson] was pretty convincing to get me over to Magic and Ruben Zadkovich had just been appointed head coach”
After Dowse’s struggle with injury he had lost the passion he had for the game but said joining Magic rekindled that flame as he made his first grade debut just before his 17th birthday.
But Dowse’s injury woes continued in his early years at Magic, with both his knees again needing to be operated on when doctors found that he had worn away a significant amount of his cartilage in his knees.
Both operations saw Dowse needing to be non-weight bearing during his recovery, seeing him miss Magic’s premiership-winning season in 2018. With his confidence shot, Dowse said it would be then-coach Zadkovich who helped him through along with his close friends and family.
“My confidence was low, I had just turned 18 and all I wanted to do was enjoy my soccer but Ruben Zadkovic was really good with that. He had to retire early due to injury so he helped me out a lot, mum and dad as well,” Dowse said.
“At the start of 2019 I was coming back from injury but Ruben was really good about it and didn’t throw me in the deep end, coming off the bench for first grade a couple of times but I got another setback with another surgery needed for my right knee.
“But I powered through it. Football is all I have ever really had so I just found a way through. Sometimes I think, I don’t know how I got through it but since the 2020 season I have felt good touch wood.”
Dowse has been back on the field since the 2021 season and said he felt like he turned the corner with his injuries. He is working full-time but said there was still only one goal in his mind.
“I’m working full-time and still playing football but if the opportunity comes up to become a professional, I will jump at it in a heartbeat,” Dowse said.
“It’s always what I wanted to do. When people would ask me what I wanted to be when I got older I would say the same thing, I want to be a footballer. There is always that hope still and I’m on top of my knees now.
“[Magic coach Damian Zane] has really helped me through the last two years since he has taken over as head coach. He knew the backstory of my injuries and since day one he said that 2021 would be the opportunity to build into this year.”