LIM SAY HENG

LIM SAY HENG

He turns 24 today and has already amassed 43 caps with the national team.

Birthday boy Hariss Harun is one of Singapore's biggest football stars, a midfield general who is key to the Lions' hopes of defending the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup.

Powerful, strong in the tackle and a tremendous reader of the game, Singapore coach Bernd Stange will almost certainly know Hariss will have to be at his best in their opening Group B clash against favourites Thailand on Sunday at the National Stadium.

Fiercely protective of the team but always cool and calm, Hariss is also much wiser these days.

He has had a lot of growing up to do over the past year at his club Johor Darul Ta'zim I.

Speaking to The New Paper as the squad took a break from training, he said: "I was playing in a team with a lot of competition for places, where you couldn't just walk into the team. I was always kept on my toes because of the quality of the players and the depth of the team."

TOUGH TIME

For someone who was always a starter, whether with the Courts Young Lions or the LionsXII, life was tough when he wasn't an automatic choice under Cesar Jimenez, at the time the JDT I coach.

It affected Hariss to the point that he actually considered a move back to Singapore.

He said: "When you are not playing and the coach doesn't put much trust in you it can be demoralising at times; that was, what happened to me.

"For nearly two months I was a little demoralised... there were rumours the LionsXII wanted to bring me back, that was a possibility that I considered."

"If I didn't get enough playing time, my place in the national team would be jeopardised," added the midfielder, who was part of the 2013 South-east Asia Games bronze medal-winning team.

But the 1.78m-tall Singaporean persevered, and his fortunes brightened up considerably when Jimenez was replaced by Bojan Hodak, who took over the reins of the Southern Tigers in April.

Hariss was given his chance to shine and the No. 14 played a significant role in JDT's championship run in the Malaysian Super League, as well as their journey to the Malaysia Cup final, where they lost 5-3 to Pahang on penalties.

The Singapore star says his move to JDT I has honed his fighting spirit and made him hungrier.

He has also developed even more as a leader.

Said Hariss: "At JDT I, I have been mostly used as a holding midfielder, or as a centre back during the Malaysia Cup campaign. I had to be more vocal and an organiser of the back line.

ORGANISER

"I used to play that role a lot with the Courts Young Lions, but at LionsXII there were senior players like Bai (Baihakki Khaizan) and Isa (Halim) taking charge, and I was concentrating on the attacking aspects of my game. "Bojan has been emphasising that we players have to take responsibility on the pitch, and instilling in us that winning mentality.

"That made my hunger to win greater... but to also be patient, to keep working hard and to be patient."

While Hariss has been a mainstay in the Singapore team for most of the time since Radojko Avramovic threw him on for his international debut in 2007 against North Korea at the age of 16 years and 217 days, he has yet to make a significant mark in major tournaments for the Republic.

SETBACKS

He tore his knee ligaments ahead of the 2008 edition of the Suzuki Cup and missed out again in 2010 when he suffered a fracture in his right leg while playing at the Asian Games in Guangzhou.

He did taste action in the victorious 2012 campaign, completing just one group stage game before fracturing his fibula against Indonesia in the second match.

As the clock ticks down to this year's highly anticipated kick-off, Hariss is sure his injury-laden history in major tournaments will have no bearing on the 2014 Suzuki Cup.

He said: "I get this question every Suzuki Cup... I played one and a half games in 2012 and in a way I was happy to have played a small role in winning the title.

"I would like to think that going into my second Suzuki Cup, things will get better on a personal level. I am just trying to put what has passed, good or bad, there.

"They are all memories but, for me, it's about looking forward and being positive."


This article was first published on November 19, 2014.
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