For Port Melbourne Sharks winger Kamal Ibrahim, all the hard work he put in during pre-season and outside regular training hours has paid off in gold.

At last Friday night’s FFV medal count, Ibrahim led the count ahead of players of the calibre of Hume’s Nick Hegarty and Pascoe Vale’s Davey Van’t Schip, taking out the Gold Medal for best NPL player of 2015.

Surprised by the result, he told Neos Kosmos, “I’m very honoured to win the award. There were a lot of good players who could have won it. My teammates were very supportive; I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Three years ago, the 23-year-old was on the books at Melbourne Heart but he left after an injury-plagued season restricted him to less than a handful of appearances.

“Since then it’s been really hard to cope with not being able to get back into a professional set-up. We only train three times a week in this league so I had to put in extra hours trying to get my body right in the gym and outside as well.

“Winning has been good for me because I knew the hard work I put in wasn’t for nothing. Good motivation for me to even keep pushing for more.”

Ethiopian-born Ibrahim first learnt his football skills in the neighbourhoods of Addis Ababa, where his biggest idol was his older brother, who played for the Ethiopian national team.

The unrest and conflict of a civil war forced his family to migrate to Australia as refugees in 2003.

They ended up living in Port Melbourne, which saw the youngster join Port as a junior where his talents were soon recognised, progressing to the VIS and AIS, appearing for the Joeys in 17 matches.

“They looked after me very well since I came to Australia as a refugee,” he says of Port Melbourne. “They looked after me with payments, with the fees when I couldn’t afford them, with soccer boots as well.”

He had a taste of full-time professional football at A-League club Melbourne City (then Heart), but on release had short stints at South Melbourne and Heidelberg United “because Port weren’t in the Premier League at the time”.

When Port won promotion back into the top tier, Ibrahim says “it was kind of the right thing for me to do, to go back to Port”. And that’s where he’s been for the last three seasons.

His career ambition is to “get back into the professional set-up again”, whether that’s in Australia or overseas.

“Somewhere where I can earn a living through football. Hopefully winning this medal can help me a little bit. If I can continue this form, hopefully there can be an opening.”

Ibrahim hopes that opening might lead to an A-League trial.

Other winners at last Friday night’s FFV medal awards included:

South Melbourne winger Nick Epifano, who picked up the NPL Players’ Player of the year award.

South Melbourne striker Milos Lujic, who won the NPL Golden Boot award for a remarkable third year in a row.

Pascoe Vale coach Vitale Ferrante, who won the NPL coach of the year award.

Boroondara Eagles midfielder Amy Jackson, who won the WPL Gold Medal award for best player.