Last August in their Graz, Austria home, Martin Raggl’s son, Deron, asked for his father’s phone to watch football on YouTube. "He came back and said ‘oh my god, do you know Cory Bent? He’s the best player in the world and plays for the Wanderers in Canada," Martin recalled hearing the name of a footballer and club he didn’t know existed seconds before. Nine-year-old Deron had, somehow, stumbled across footage of HFX Wanderers FC in action at the Island Games – the 2020 CPL season played on Prince Edward Island. Just how he found Bent – a former first overall CPL-U SPORTS Draft pick – in a second-year league an ocean away is beside the point: Deron was enamored with his new footballing hero. "Forget Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo," Deron said through his father. "Cory is the fastest player in the world. The best striker in the world. He is so great. "He's so fast and technical – he’s just better."
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As for which moment from his Island Games would draw Messi-like comparison, Bent suggested his goal against Valour FC -- or "it might have been that one nutmeg I pulled off." Bent, a former Manchester United and Preston North End youth player, first learned of his Austrian fan club on Instagram when the family reached out for a signed jersey – it was all Deron wanted for his birthday this Fall. "I’ve never been to Austria – never been near it, actually," Bent told CanPL.ca. "It was just so surprising. I didn’t know what was going on. "Sometimes we don't understand the reach we have as footballers. It was really weird how it came about but it reminds you of the platform we have – plus the idea of people watching me in Austria is a really cool feeling." Bent, who has made 10 appearances for the Wanderers, quickly got a kit signed and sent to Austria. The jersey is now framed and sits behind the Raggl family’s couch. "He could not believe it – ‘it's the jersey of Cory Bent’, he kept repeating," Martin said, saying his son cried at first sight of the white-and-blue strip. "Next thing I knew he had the phone and was calling everyone at school about it." Deron and Cory have become unlikely pen pals, speaking "around once a week" as the youngster continues school. "The first time I met him I was nervous because he’s a professional footballer," Deron told CanPL.ca. "But I’m very proud. At school I tell everyone my best friend is Cory Bent." The former Cape Breton Capers standout and Wanderers winger is unsurprisingly humble about comparisons to the world’s best footballers. But he’s quick to credit his Austrian super fan for lifting him out of a rut last Fall. "Deron had reached out at a tough time for me mentally, actually," Bent recalled. "I was struggling to stay motivated and push myself [after the Island Games]. But you hear from someone like that, it really lights something inside of you. When that comes through the inbox, you feel like you’re ready to go. "It was out of the blue, but it was also amazing timing." Back in Austria, Deron and Martin like the Wanderers’ chances to capture the North Star Shield in the 2021 CPL season, which is set to start in a single site as COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada ramp up. "Well, the biggest wish from day one was to watch a game in Canada," Martin said, laughing at the idea of the Wanderers doing an Austrian tour just to meet up with the pair. "Dreams can really come true – Cory is a great example of that." Indeed. Dreams, however big or small, can come true.