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Jonke savours Canadian call-up after playing in Finland

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The Canadian Press
1/25/2013 12:17:19 PM
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Frank Jonke is a study in perseverance.

The big striker from Pickering, Ont., has carved out a pro career in Finland. Now he's savouring the chance to pull on a Canadian jersey.

"If you work hard and you can keep going, somebody's bound to notice you," he said. "And if they don't, you just keep working.

"You're doing it for yourself and your teammates that are on the field with you. You don't give up."

Jonke's determination has earned him a call-up from the Canadian national team. Having failed to make the final roster of the under-23 team for 2008 Olympic qualifying, he was "speechless" when he was summoned to join interim coach Colin Miller's camp.

"This is the pinnacle of a player's career almost, when you get called into a national team," Jonke said in an interview poolside at the Canadian team hotel. "You can't get any higher, which is amazing for me. I'm just taking it day by day and working as hard as I can."

Jonke (pronounced Jonk-eh) is paying for his efforts. A knock to his ankle kept him out of training Thursday and most of Friday, in advance of Saturday's friendly in Tucson against Denmark.

At six foot three, he is a target man who likes to hold the ball up, play teammates in and then head to the penalty box. He scores the bulk of his goals from up close.

"I know my ability as a player and I don't try to go outside of it, because that's my role."

Jonke attended Notre Dame College, an NAIA school in Ohio, for one year before transferring to the University of Louisville. The Cardinals had recruited his younger brother John, a centre back, and extended an offer to Frank.

"How can you say no to a program like Louisville?" said Frank. "They have almost the best athletic program in the nation."

He spent three years at Louisville. "Loved every minute of it. It helped me develop as a player," he said.

After college, he played for the Toronto Lynx of the PDL and the Italia Shooters of the CSL while trying to figure out "am I going to get a real job or am I going to try to play pro."

His cause was helped by a German passport thanks to family bloodlines.

Jonke, who turns 28 on Jan. 30, found an agent who sent him to FF Jaro in Finland. The team's top striker was in a slump but found his scoring touch a week after Jonke landed.

So Jonke was loaned to JBK, Jaro's local farm team. He scored a bunch of goals and earned the appreciation of coach Aleksei Yeryomenko, who is now in charge of FF Jaro.

Jonke went on to play for AC Oulu and FC Inter Turku before returning to Jaro.

Oulu was in the second division but went after Jonke as part of its mission to get promoted. Jonke did his part, despite missing eight games with a knee ligament injury.

He spent another season with Oulu in the top division before switching to Inter Turku, one of Finland's leading clubs. He was signed to stay in Oulu but the club had financial issues and so Jonke moved on.

His first stop was Germany's Arminia Bielefeld but they were looking to get younger. Then Inter Turku called.

He arrived 12 to 14 games into the season, helping the team to second place in the league. The club had money issues, however, and Jonke came home to ponder his future.

He went to Swiss second division team Delemont, but didn't like the semi-pro setup. So it was back to Pickering for more pondering.

His brother's agent had secured an entree for John to a Chinese club and told Frank they were looking for big strikers.

"I was like 'All right, I haven't seen China yet,"' he thought.

China wasn't for him, however. Frank said he didn't feel comfortable mentally there and knew his game would suffer as a result.

He flew home where he got a call from Yeryomenko, whose FF Jaro team had five points after 13 games and needed a goal-scorer.

"At this point, I'm going stir-crazy because I'm not doing anything ... I was on the plane the next day."

A known quality, he was welcomed with open arms at the club when he arrived last June. He responded by scoring three goals in his first four games.

He will head back to Finland after the Canadian camp. He's comfortable at Jaro and says if he plays well, doors will open.

Jaro is based in Jakobstad, a small town near the Baltic Sea that is largely Swedish speaking. The local stadium gets crowded when 3,000 show up.

After four years, Finland has become his second home.

"At first I though 'Oh my God, that's so far,"' recalled Jonke, who is single. "The first six months are rough but then as you get to know people, you get comfortable with everybody and you can start to speak the language. ... Life for me there is very easy."

"It's very laid-back," he added. "There's no rat-race."

His dressing room featured 10 different nationalities last season.

His Finnish is improving and he plans to start taking Swedish lessons. He is also taking advantage of being in Europe, travelling to as many countries as he can.

And at least one Canadian soccer player can say he's going to the World Cup in Brazil. A former teammate from Oulu lives in Brazil, so Jonke plans to visit him and take in some games.

Two other players in the Canadian camp also have Finnish experience. Mason Raymond spent two seasons there and fellow defender Nana Attakora finished up last season there.

Soccer (Photo: Mark Keppler/Bongarts/Getty Images))

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(Photo: Mark Keppler/Bongarts/Getty Images))
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