What it’s like... To be a squad player

Phoenix midfielder Jimmy Downey talks about his fight for first-team football.

At every club there are players fighting for first-team football. Wellington Phoenix midfielder Jimmy Downey talks about his ambitions for the season.

“I-m just coming back from rehab. I hurt my knee after the first game last season and I had surgery in November; came back from that for a few weeks and then hurt it again, so had surgery in May after the season. So it-s been a 12-month ordeal but it-s coming good.

“I-ve been working hard to get fit and do all the strengthening on the knee and get it right to go again. I-ll be touch and go to be fit enough for the first game but I-ll be training with the squad for the first week.

“Keeping your focus when you-re not playing is hard. When you can-t do your job you-ve got a lot of spare time to think about what-s wrong and how you can get it better and it can do your head in.

“I try to keep myself busy and occupied, keep going to the gym and keep a routine so I-m not wasting days. There are another couple of guys injured at the same time so we stick together and motivate each other so that helps as well.

“The first thing you want to do when you join a new club is and earn a spot. I want to go in and get a first-team spot as quick as I can. Unfortunately the last few years I-ve found it hard getting consistency. Trying to get in early, get your spot and then keep it - but the battle is keeping myself fit enough to do that.

“Ricki (Herbert, Phoenix coach) has been really positive. He tries to give me a lot of confidence and that-s what you need when you-re not playing. He doesn-t treat you worse when you-re injured, he-s always friendly and makes you want to come back and compete for a sport, he gives a lot of confidence when you do step back in.

“Some managers can be a bit annoyed or distant to injured players but Ricki-s not like that at all. It-s a battle within yourself as well. I-ve had times when I-m not even at training, I-m not able to be on the park and I-m at the gym and you-re away from everyone and having to motivate yourself.

"That-s not a problem for me, I enjoy that side of things but you do miss being around the boys - but it-s motivating to be back with your mates again and wanting to win all the little games at training.

“Keeping a positive attitude is crucial. It-s one of the things I looked at when I-ve been injured; it-s vital to stay positive. I-ve spoken to a friend who deals in that area of psychology and the mindset is the most important thing.

"If you-re thinking negatively that-s what you-ll get. You have to stay focused, stay positive, and set yourself goals. That-s what the injuries have taught me and the mental side of my games is much stronger; it-s a little positive to come out of these injuries.

“But it is hard to get a spot sometimes. The A-League season is so short it-s hard to break into a squad, particularly if the team-s doing well.

“There was a point last season when we were winning heaps of games; I-d come back from injury and was on the bench a lot. The team-s winning so I-m happy to play my part coming off the bench but it was unfortunate that at times when I would have had a chance to play I was injured. Sometimes you-ve got to be a bit lucky and when you get it you‘ve got to take it and not look back.

“There is always competition for spots. We-ve got a good bunch of boys here; we-re really competitive but we-re a good bunch of mates. Not every club-s like that but we-ve got a good culture and fighting for spots, the regulars have earned that right. The new guys look up to that and that-s what we want to achieve.

“I have been setting myself goals for this season. I had a big ambition as a kid to play overseas and I did that for a year in Holland. Injuries clouded that again but I don-t regret it at all, it was a really good experience and just to know that I-m capable of playing over there is motivation for me to come back and have another go at some point.

"But I-m not in a rush; the way the last few years have been I just want to get some consistent football and once that happens I-ll reassess my goals.”

The Hyundai A-League 2012/13 season kicks off on Friday 5 October with the season-s first Melbourne derby at Etihad Stadium. Click here for tickets to all the matches.

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