Teammates of Dylan Tombides were shocked to receive news the 20-year-old striker died on Friday night just three months after representing Australia at the Asian Under-22 Championship.
Young Socceroos and Sydney FC midfielder Hagi Gligor was struggling to come to terms with the news his international teammate died after a three-year battle with cancer as the two were playing alongside one another as recently as January.
The sudden death of Tombides shocked the football world as the prodigious forward had returned to full training last year and earned a recall to the national youth team late last year. He last played for Australia on January 20, appearing as a substitute in the 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in the quarter-finals of the AFC U-22 Championship and Gligor says Tombides was at full fitness and appeared to be on the mend after years battling his illness.
"That's what shocked everybody the most, it was only a few months ago that we saw him fit and healthy, and to hear this is devastating," Gligor said.
"He just got treatment maybe a few weeks before he came into camp and he didn't seem any different to any other boys. He was normal fitness-wise, his football, everything seemed fine ... Getting a text message last night about it was a bit of a shock, I showed a few of the boys the text message and we couldn't believe it."
Gligor received news of Tombides' death late last night after Sydney FC's elimination from the A-League finals at the hands of Melbourne Victory, but said the passing of his former Olyroos teammate overshadowed the pain of defeat.
The passing of the striker put a lot into perspective for the Sky Blues, who said the 2-1 loss to the Victory means little in the context of the tragic news.
"We were talking about the loss and then we talked about Dylan's passing and it really puts it into perspective," Gligor said. "The game doesn't really matter now when it comes to this kind of stuff."
Despite on the comeback trail from treatment before the Asian Under-22 Championship, Tombides was in good spirits within the camp and was positive and jovial with teammates, Gligor said.
"He was really humble, he was easy to talk to, easy to approach, he was one of the boys who liked to joke around and he liked to play some pranks on some of the boys. It seemed like nothing was wrong."
Adelaide United goalkeeper Paul Izzo was a teammate of Tombides during the 2011 Under-17 FIFA World Cup in Mexico and said he was surprisingly humble for a player who had such a high-profile compared with his teammates.
"The first time we met him, we all heard how much he's achieved at West Ham and we were thinking this guy could be a bit [cocky] but when we met him he respected everyone and that was the best part of him, that he was so down to earth considering everything he achieved at such a young age," Izzo said.
Perth-born Tombides was a quick, strong and technically adept athlete who Izzo said was one of the best he had played alongside and could have gone on to play regularly in the EPL.
"Just in training you could that he was a class above, he was at a next level that everyone wanted to reach," Izzo said. "He showed everyone in that first game against Ivory Coast when he scored an equaliser and from that he gave us a big lift. When he played, he inspired all of us to give our best performance and I think that was another great quality of his."