The Premmy Files – Catching Up On The First Wave Of Player Signings

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We’re still a little while away from the new Premiership season, though God knows when NZ Football will get a draw out there. Probably soon since the season began on 14 October last year with the Charity Shield thingamajig and that’s less than a month away (although I’ve heard November as a round one date, dunno)… but then if it’s anything like the official press for the National Women’s League than we might not get a draw until a few hours before the first round of games kick off. We hearty souls make do with what we’ve got, pretty much.

But squads are slowly coming together and hype is steadily building. Two teams out there – Waitakere and Eastern Suburbs – still don’t technically have coaches yet, at least not that they’ve announced publically, but as always with the Premmy yarns what finds its way to the light of day isn’t necessarily the full picture. Last time I wrote about the chaos that so many teams find themselves in as managers make way and players move on. This time I wanna take a peek at some of the player movement that’s been happening as we begin to make sense of all that chaos.

Which means that if you’re a Waitakere fan then you might as well not bother. Your lot are the worst of the bunch when it comes to having any kind of social media presence and after the shambles of their squad last season which was basically a completely different unit by the end of it compared to the start with a full-on youth movement emerging… it’s hard to even guess what’s going on. Although we do know that they haven’t been able to retain one of their star imports Ollie Bassett because he’s found his way to Team Wellington. I’d anticipate a very young squad, though that might not be a terrible thing because the Waitaks have had links with a decent number of age group reps lately.

Similar yarns for Hamilton Wanderers who haven’t said much at all yet, although they do at least still have the great man Ricki Herbert in charge. So that’s useful. Next step is to get Tommy Semmy to recommit after his failed trial at the Phoenix given he’s kinda carried the team these last two years. A little continuity never goes astray… more than you can say about Eastern Suburbs whose coach has progressed to the All Whites job and ten of their eleven starters from the victorious grand final last time have progressed into professional situations in one way or another. Hey, they make a big shake about providing pathways for kiwis and this is what that looks like. An outrageous level of vindication for The Suburbs Way… but the flipside is that now they have to start over again and they’ll be doing it without the Ole Academy link.

Then there’s the Welly Nix group which is a very different situation, being a youth team and all. The general trend is that they have mass changes year on year anyway as players graduate from the academy and go to uni in the USA or move into the first team or go pro overseas or just plain leave the club. The WeeNix are used to this whole reshuffle. But there will be a few returning figures popping up in the ranks, as well as the odd first teamer sliding on down for game time. Ben Waine is one who would have been likely to get a few games bouncing between this team and the A-League side but then the way he’s going right now he might be starting for the seniors, damn that dude can score a goal. But Sam Sutton, Ronan Wynne, Kurtis Mogg... there’ll be a few lads backing up and of course there’ll be a new wave coming through as well.

It’s the other six teams who’ve been busy. And since those teams have been nice enough to bless us with such knowledge, I now get to be kind enough to bless them with lovely publicity. Starting with Auckland City because I cannot overstate how much I love what they’re doing right now. It’ll be curious to see if they lose any/many of their imports without Ramon Tribulietx and they’ve already lost Dan Morgan and Micah Lea’alafa who are playing with Jeremy Brockie at Maritzburg United in South Africa these days as well as Te Atawhai-Hudson Wihongi to the Welly Nix.

But their recruitment so far has been *chef’s kiss*. Their biggest weakness last season was inconsistency at centre-forward. Okay then, here’s Myer Bevan, a kiwi international with a point to prove. They haven’t announced it yet either but Logan Rogerson is apparently on the way too – he and Bevan and both scoring goals for the U23s in Fiji at the moment. Jose Figueira is one of those managers that players seem to really love playing for so his appointment was going to have a magnetic force… two Team Wellington players from last season have joined ACFC for the upcoming campaign: Mario Ilich and Adam Mitchell. A couple Central United boys (with Croatian heritage and everything) so the confines of Kiwitea Street are especially familiar to them.

Plus they’ve also brought in Andrew Blake, a kiwi youth international who has been overseas with Hibernian but an injury kinda ruined the fullback’s chances there. A reclamation project falling into the welcoming arms of the Premiership to restart their career, as it should be. And then they’ve also swooped for Conor Tracey which is a wild one. He was my first team goalkeeper for the Premmy Files All Stars last season for his work with Canterbury United but he’s an Aucklander who, for this year at least, seems to have prioritised putting himself in the best situation for personal development and maximum training efficiency even if it means competition for playing time with Enaut Zubikarai (assuming he returns). Tracey’s battling for a spot in the Olympics so it’s a bit of a crucial period in his footy life these next twelve months.

You know who barely got a mention in the chaos article? Southern United. Because there’s nothing chaotic about them, that club seems to be running things beautifully despite having some of the toughest hurdles to overcome. The live streams are magic, the website goes good, the updates are flowing… and if Canterbury and Eastern Suburbs drop down a step this season then the Southerners are a good bet to push for the semis with a very consistent squad boosted by a couple very exciting additions.

Paul O’Reilly wasted little time in re-recruiting a quartet of imports who have been doing great things for the club for multiple years now. Conor O’Keeffe, Stephen Last, Danny Ledwith, and Garbhan Coughlan are all back in business. As is local keeper Liam Little and more than a handful of youth team grads, many of whom got good minutes last campaign (Ben Deeley, Alex Cox, Rory Findlay, etc.). Forward maestro Abdullah Al-Kalisy is returning to score a few more goals. And while Markus Fjortoft has gone to play at Hamilton Accies in Scotland (where George Stanger, NZ U20s rep, is under contract – though he’s gone out on loan recently), he must have dropped a few good lines because his old college buddy Chris Wingate has replaced him.

Oh and this is without even getting to the two most funky additions… Joel Stevens and Jordan Spain. Yup, Dunedin lad Joel Stevens is heading back down south where suddenly that front three (with Al-Kalisy and Coughlan) is looking as good as any in the competition. If he can bring the level of influence he showed at Team Welly before he moved to Sweden then yeah, look out. Stevens probably didn’t have the impact he hoped when he rejoined Team Welly midseason last time but he was playing off the bench or as a wingback. Here should be much more prominent. And Jordan Spain is a great pick up too, a young fullback (and the brother of Aaron Spain) who is away with the NZ U23s at the moment. He signs out of the Cantab youth squad.

Speaking of the Cantabs, new Director of Football Lee Padmore won’t have either of the Spain brothers but he will have the greatest Canterbury Dragon of them all pulling on the red and black once more. Aaron Clapham left the club almost two years ago to take a step back from footy with a newborn in the household but popped back up with Team Wellington for a spell that took him to the Club World Cup last year where he scored against Al-Ain. Old mate’s still got the power in those boots and it’ll be great to see him have another swing at it after that horrible head knock he took in the grand final last season. For Canterbury too, as it should be. He’s one of four initial signings announced by the Dragons, along with defenders Sean Liddicoat, Cory Mitchell, and Tom Schwarz who have all been at the club for a little while now.

It sounds like Canterbury Utd are keen to reinforce those links with local clubs and players and they’re not alone as both Hawke’s Bay United and Tasman United are on that same buzz. HBU obviously taking it even further when it came to picking a new coach. Which of the gaffers from the two standout clubs in the region do we pick? Eh, just take ‘em both. So it’s going to be interesting to see what the balance of Havelock North (Chris Greatholder) and Napier City Rovers (Bill Robertson) players looks like once the full squad is unveiled. In the meantime we’re seeing a real emphasis on young local players with highly regarded defender Kaeden Atkins the first new signing and he was followed by the likes of Kenny Willox and Jack Parker, while Karan Mandair and Jorge Akers were both regulars last season. Things got stale towards the end of Brett Angell’s time at the club and the defence last time around was nothing short of abysmal, so it’s pleasing to see the co-coaches doing their thing to build a strong and empowering culture with the group. Plus it helps that Napier City Rovers only went and won the Chatham Cup the other week. Four of that squad have already signed for HBU and another one is a coach.

Similar beans with Tasman United who first off did the right thing and got back Fox Slotemaker after he was their best player last term. They’ve retained Matt Tod-Smith which is a big one too. Billy Scott is a cool name to see pop up, he’s a Nelson native but has played for Hawke’s Bay and Team Welly in the past – winning a couple titles with the latter. Then there’s Hamish Cadigan and Labu Pan, as well as last season’s youth team captain Rick Muir. And finally they’ve also added striker Jama Boss who was top scorer for Manukau United in the Northern League Premier Division this year so the scouts have been doing their job apparently. Max Winterton just got announced today too. Eight names in permanent ink for Tassie and their new Director of Football Jess Ibrom (one of a couple clubs going down that road… which is really just a cost-cutting measure of combining two jobs).

Ah yes which brings us to Team Wellington. No more Jose but they’ve promoted from within as Scott Hales has taken the reigns and apart from the losses of Stevens (who wasn’t massively prominent last year after he came back) and Mitchell and Ilich (Mitchell was injured a bit though Ilich, yeah, that’s a key dude) they should be able to retain a fair chunk of their regular crew. Already they’ve announced the re-signings of Jack-Henry Sinclair, Angus Kilkolly, Andy Bevin, Nati Hailemariam, and Alex Palezevic… plus they’ve gotten el capitan Justin Gulley back after his stint with the Wellington Phoenix. All massive deals.

Team Welly lost a lot of players through that season though and we’ll wait and see how many more of them they can entice back. Aaron Clapham is another who has left, obviously, which means that between him, Ilich, and Mario Barcia who left for Indonesia after the Club World Cup poor old Palezevic is about the only bloke still remaining in that midfield. Hamish Watson wouldn’t be a bad shout to return as well after his goal-scoring feats for Melbourne Knights but whether that’s on the cards or not who knows? Scott Hilliar is another who has had a successful stint in Oz, his Avondale side lost on penalties to Ilich’s Bentleigh Greens in the NPL Victoria Championship (Hilliar missed in the shootout while Ilich scored).

One thing that’s always clever though is when your team might be vulnerable, you buy up the best players on your rivals. The Bayern Munich effect. So Team Welly have done the thing by snapping up Ollie Bassett from Waitakere, he was their best import player and one of the few who was effective the whole way through the season, and also getting their mitts on Aaron Spain to play on whichever wingback flank JH Sinclair doesn’t occupy. Last time they alternated between Henry Cameron and Eric Molloy at LWB, two forwards playing deep. This time they have another specialist – gotta love that kind of recruitment. Plus they’ve also signed a bloke called Rory McKeown who is a Northern Ireland age group rep who did make the bench of their senior side once but hasn’t been capped. He’s advertised as a left back though can play as a winger as well – I wonder if he might be seen as a more versatile option… although if Hales is keeping the same system as Figueira had then those wingbacks are essential for Team Welly and a little depth never goes astray.

But hey, ages to go yet. Plenty more signings and player movement to sneak in before things eventually kick off whenever the hell that is. So , you know, keep the ol’ eyes peeled as Premmy Files makes its triumphant return.

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