Running out of tomorrows
This is my shot at winning an A-League grand final. I won’t be able to dismiss it with a ‘There’s always next year’ if we lose. Not at this stage of my career.
I’m 35 years old. I’m not saying I couldn’t get this chance again, but let’s be realistic. I aim to play on for as long as I can, but there can’t be a lot of next years left.
And grand finals are hard enough to get to in the first place. I’ve played in the A-League since it began and this is the first time I’ve made it this far.
So I’m going in with the Newcastle Jets thinking this is the chance of a lifetime.
I’d be sitting on the bench against Melbourne Victory if Jack Duncan hadn’t torn his quad in our semi-final win over Melbourne City. I went on in about the 25th minute and the game seemed to go by so fast it was a blur. I was kind of in shock at the end, after we won. Everyone went crazy and I was just standing there.
Then I started hugging the boys and it was like, ‘How good’s this?’.
I pretty much knew on the night that I’d be backing up for the grand final. Jack wouldn’t have come off unless it was serious.
He’s devastated at missing out, but he’s not sulking in a corner. He’s been great at training this week, pushing past his own disappointment to encourage everyone else.
Injuries are a part of football and their timing can be awful.
It’s not just Jack. Ben Kantarovski has been at the Jets for a decade, but he has struggled with a hammy recently and couldn’t make it back. Same with Wayne Brown and his calf.
Those guys aren’t sitting around with the long face either. They’re jogging around the outside of the field at training and joining in on the gym sessions.
This is the first year I’ve had in the A-League where I wasn’t the first-choice goalkeeper at the start, but I accepted that and vowed I would be ready if needed.
My mentality was simple.
From the first pre-season training session onwards, I still presumed I was the number one and acted and trained like that, so that if I was called up I’d be physically and mentally able to do the job as required.
I didn’t allow myself to get into a slump by thinking ‘I’m just the back-up, I’m never going to play’, because then I wouldn’t have enjoyed my work and my standards would’ve slipped.
I maintained good habits, basically.
AN UNLUCKY (AND LUCKY) BREAK
As it turned out, I was needed. Jack broke his toe and I came in a for a couple of months, and then when he returned, it was good timing for me because I’d been playing with a fractured rib for a couple of weeks.
But you don’t expect what happened last week. One minute you’re sitting on the bench giving the linesman a bit of grief and cheering on the boys, and the next minute you’re out there.
I’d call it surreal, but there was no time for it to be like that. I had to slip straight into gear in case a shot came my way.
Jack Duncan is devastated at missing out, but he’s not sulking in a corner.
The next day I had a sore throat and no voice from screaming to try to be heard over 20,000 fans in the wind and pouring rain, pushing ‘Topa‘ and ‘Boogs‘ up from the centre of the defence or pulling them back.
But this is why you battle away every year, do all that gut-busting pre-season work and maintain that belief, for moments like these.
You have to keep telling yourself it’s all for a reason and there will be a payoff, the reward’s going to come.
And now, after all that hard grind going back to when I was a teenager, well before the A-League even began, I’ll finally get to go out there and play in the biggest club game in Australia.
The week has been so enjoyable. That feeling of satisfaction has lifted me to a place of calm, of quiet confidence.
I’m contracted next year at the Jets. It will be back to supporting Jack for me, I’m under no illusions about that, but I’ll keep battling hard every day in case I’m needed.
I’m happy with that role and it’s often rewarding to put others in front of yourself.
Beyond that, who knows what will happen? I’ve enjoyed my switch to the Jets and at the moment I see no end in sight for my career.
The good thing about our coach, Ernie Merrick, is that we’ve known each other for so long and have such a good relationship that he’ll tell me when it’s time.
One day, he’ll say, ‘Mossy, see this season out and then we’ll find something else for you to do’. But right now I’ve got a grand final to play.
GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE
My attitude my whole career has been that being a good person, a good club man, is at least as important as being a good player. Probably more so.
It has always stood me in good stead.
I was at Victory under Ernie in the 2009-10 season. I began it as the number one ‘keeper, but Ernie dropped me midway through the season and put Mitch Langerak in instead.
I didn’t throw the toys out of the cot.
Ernie explained to me that I was still the senior ‘keeper and that he needed me to support Mitch because of his inexperience and I stayed true to my values and did that.
Mitch was amazing. He had a big say in getting us to the grand final, which we unfortunately lost on penalties to Sydney FC, and then he got a big move to Borussia Dortmund.
Imagine if I hadn’t had the right attitude and I’d just gone through the motions and let Mitch find his way on his own.
Where would that have put me in Ernie’s mind when I was at Wellington Phoenix and he took over as coach there in 2013? Or before the start of this season, when I’d been talking to the Jets and then Ernie was appointed coach before any deal had been done?
How you react to decisions that might negatively affect you but which the coach makes for what he sees as the good of the team can change the course of your career.
The reason I was talking to the Jets in the first place is that Joel Griffiths approached me. He played at the Phoenix for a short time in 2015 and we got on well. I did my best to make him feel welcome at the club and I’m sure he appreciated that.
But what if we hadn’t got on well and he didn’t rate me as a bloke? I probably wouldn’t have gotten the call in the first place.
I’m proud of my character and how I present myself. I believe you treat people with respect and have a good work ethic.
Good things happen to good people and if you’re not a good person you hold yourself back in this game. I could name you plenty of good-quality players who haven’t gone as far as they should because they’re not good people.
Everyone needs to be selfish to a degree in football, but there’s a limit and managers like Ernie don’t tolerate players stepping over the line.
How you react to decisions that might negatively affect you … can change the course of your career.
I’m not sure he’s ever referred to it as a ‘No Dickhead Policy’, but that’s what he’s got. He doesn’t care if you’re the best player in the league, if you’re not a good person and you won’t work as part of a team, he won’t sign you.
My relationship with Ernie has always been really tight.
He has always put the interests of the players first. He never tried to hold anyone back at Wellington when we used to lose half the team to the All Whites for an international.
He resigned as coach of the Phoenix because he felt he couldn’t do any more to help us and that it was time to give someone else a go. How many coaches would be prepared to give up their job like that?
Ernie rang me in the pre-season and said, ‘Have you been talking to the Jets?’ I didn’t quite know how to answer and then he laughed and said, ‘I’m coming on-board too’ and that he’d love to have me.
I was comfortable signing after that because I knew the sort of positive environment he’d create at the club.
One of the great trivia questions
I got a letter from Sepp Blatter once. But it wasn’t good news.
Apart from winning an A-League title the other main goal I’ve really chased hard was to play in a World Cup and I thought I was going to get there in 2010, but I got sent off in New Zealand’s last Oceania qualifying game.
One of our boys had been thumped almost into row Z and I used the F-bomb in telling the ref where to go because I was frustrated at his decision.
You’d probably get away with it in the A-League because the refs would use more common sense, but it was in the islands and maybe an inexperienced ref, and I was shown a red card.
It was a game in the November international window. The decision was handed down in December, close to Christmas, and it came through on the fax machine at New Zealand Football – a four-match ban. But the office had been closed down for the holidays and nobody saw it until it re-opened in January, and by then the window for an appeal had shut.
I was screwed.
I went to the New Zealand PFA for help and I’ve still got the signed letter from Sepp Blatter at FIFA that said he understood my situation and felt for me but couldn’t reopen the appeal window.
I had to cop it on the chin.
I missed the two playoff games against Bahrain in which we qualified for the World Cup with Mark Paston doing a great job in goal and I was lucky Ricki Herbert still took me to the World Cup in South Africa because I wasn’t going to be able to play in the first two group games.
Nine out of 10 managers wouldn’t have done that, so I was really grateful to him. He was so supportive.
We drew our first two matches and ‘Pasto’ ended up playing in all three group games. I sat on the bench for the third against Paraguay. We drew 0-0 and as it turned out a win would have qualified us for the knockout stage.
Being a part of the squad was still a huge career highlight for me.
We were the only team that finished unbeaten at that World Cup. Even Spain, who went on to win the final, lost a group game.
The young blokes at the Jets don’t believe me when I tell them. It’s one of the great trivia questions.