Sam Mason-Smith in typical attacking mode. PHOTO/FILE

GARY CAFFELL

Wairarapa United skipper Sam Mason-Smith wasn’t there to receive his trophy when he was named Men’s Central League Player of the Year at Capital Football’s end-of-season awards function in Wellington on Monday night.

However, there was good reason for his absence as he was on his way to South Africa for a month-long trial with a Cape Town club which could end with him securing a professional contract and becoming a permanent resident there.

Mason-Smith sent his apologies via Facebook where he thanked those who had voted for him under the new format which allowed members of clubs affiliated to Capital Football to vote for the three finalists and winner in each category.

And the prolific scoring striker also made special mention of his Wairarapa United teammates who “made plenty of chances for me”.

For Wairarapa United coach Phil Keinzley Mason-Smith’s success was not only due reward for scoring 18 goals for his second-placed Central League squad over the 2017 season but for the quality of his leadership both on and off the field of the play.

“We introduced a lot of young guys to the league this year and Sam was the perfect role model.

“He always plays hard but fair and works just as hard at training as he does on match days.”

Keinzley said the huge improvement Wairarapa United had shown in discipline last season was largely due to Mason-Smith’s own demeanour.

“We talked a lot about not letting opposition feed off our lack of discipline and Sam set the perfect example, he kept his composure and the referees respected him for that.”

Whether Mason-Smith returns to the Wairarapa United fold next winter is now, of course, dependent on his Cape Town trial with Keinzley freely conceding he would leave a big hole to fill.

“Frankly I would be surprised if he didn’t get a contract, he’s such a talented player it’s hard to imagine him missing out,” Keinzley said.

“And, yes, that’s bad news for us, players like him don’t come along very often and they are very hard to replace.”

Mason-Smith apart however Keinzley is confident that the remainder of the 2017 Wairarapa United squad will be available for selection again next year with the main motivating force being the desire to provide the club with their first Central League premiership.

“I think the general feeling is there is still unfinished business to sort out, that second wasn’t quite good enough.

“We need to get this monkey off the back and that’s what next season will be all about.”

Mason-Smith was not the only finalist from Wairarapa for the Capital Football awards with Paul Brandon of Martinborough being chosen as one of three contenders for Club Administrator of the Year which was eventually won by Joanne Todd from the Western Suburbs club.

An ex-Wairarapa United player in Wendi Henderson, who is now with the Upper Hutt club, was named Coach of the Year.

Henderson is already a member of Wellington’s Hall of Fame.