Phoenix players united in bid to chase ‘unfinished business’

Wellington Phoenix players voted unanimously to decamp to Sydney and finish chasing their dreams of Hyundai A-League glory following Sunday night’s win against Melbourne Victory.

Phoenix general manager David Dome revealed head coach Ufuk Talay opened the door for any player to stay behind in New Zealand after the 3-0 win at Sky Stadium, but his offer was met with a show of defiance from the ’Nix players as they chase their best ever Hyundai A-League finish.

All 22 senior players, plus scholars Sam Sutton and goalkeeper Zac Jones, travelled across the ditch on Wednesday knowing they would be set for a mandatory 14 days training in self-isolation under Australian border restriction rules before they could resume their remarkable campaign.

Wellington’s best ever competition finish is fourth, which they have achieved on three occasions, and they currently sit in third place with six matches to play in Talay’s rookie season in the head coach’s dugout, which will all be played behind closed doors due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dome praised the Wellington players’, and staff’s, commitment to the cause as they each make sacrifices to finish their Hyundai A-League journey – and launch a potential Championship bid – over the coming weeks.

“Number one, ultimately, we asked the players – do you want to go?,” Dome said.

“To be really clear, we did not mandate this on anybody.  The whole group was asked after the game.

“Ufie [Head Coach Ufuk Talay] said ‘if you don’t want to go, just let us know – we’re not going to make you go.’”

“There’s a sense of, from the playing group, that there is unfinished business with the A-League and they want to finish it off.

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Dome added: “No one was saying ‘this makes me uneasy’ at all – they were all going ‘we want to carry on, we want to go deep into the A-League Finals.’

“That was really encouraging, same with the staff.

“All of the support staff are going, and it’s going to affect their families as well, and not one single staff member said ‘I don’t feel comfortable going.’

"That shows you the unity within the team – that every single player wanted to be a part of it."

“There is something special about this group, there’s no doubt about it,” Dome added.

The group travelled to Sydney on Tuesday, missing only Luke DeVere – who flew to Brisbane with his pregnant wife, Tygar, so she could be with her family ahead of her expected due date in around two weeks.

But the centre-half, who has formed a formidable partnership with captain Steve Taylor in the ‘Nix backline, was set to reunite with his football family the following day as Football Operations Manager Shaun Gill paid tribute to his team’s togetherness in adversity.

“The playing group has been absolutely amazing, we must say that,” Gill said.

“They are behind it 100%. They all had the option to stay behind if they wanted, but there are mixed emotions.

“It’s obviously something challenging and new – that they would not have been used to.

“But, at the same time, it’s been a fantastic season to date and a lot of them are keen to see how far they can go.”

Phoenix players gather at Wellington airport on Wednesday, ahead of their flight to Sydney.
Phoenix players gather at Wellington airport on Wednesday, ahead of their flight to Sydney.

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