Paul Ifill. PHOTOS/FILE
Loss of key men ruined season
Paul Ifill has played his last Central League game for Wairarapa United.
The Wellington Phoenix legend confirmed on Tuesday that Friday’s 0-3 loss to Lower Hutt City would be his last in the Central League for the club he joined in 2015.
However, Ifill, who will turn 42 next month, plans to continue playing at a lower level.
“I felt I did well this year as such, but I don’t think I can keep going,” said Ifill.
“The body is saying to me I need to take a little bit of step back, so ideally Capital Premier or Capital One, but there’s nothing around here, so am I going to be willing to do the travel at my age? Probably not, so I suppose that leaves Capital Two with Douglas Villa, or do I drop down to Capital Four if Masterton Athletic get up, or Greytown?
“If I want to stay local, it’s really one of those three. If I’m willing to travel, it would probably be Upper Hutt and just pop over the hill and train once a week or go the other way to Palmerston North and play in the Central Federation League. But I will play another couple of years – that’s for sure.”
United finished fifth in the Central League, one place outside qualification for the new national championship, a respectable outcome given a mid-season upheaval with the sudden resignation of coach Phil Keinzley and the loss of two in-form players.
That led to Ifill picking up the player-coach’s role in collaboration with other senior players for the remainder of the season.
Ifill said United would have made the new-look national championship if they had retained influential midfielder Hugo Delhommelle, who moved to Miramar Rangers, and prolific striker Jared Cunniff, who was lured to eventual Central League champions Wellington Olympic.
Miramar, Western Suburbs, and Olympic joined Lower Hutt City, who were guaranteed a place as the Wellington Phoenix Academy, in the national championship.
Ifill felt that the untimely transfer window in the second half of the season and the lack of control over club-spending on players did not help the smaller clubs such as United break into the national championship, which was touted by NZ Football as an amateur league with a focus on youth development and sustainability.
He said its concept was ideal, but a few bits and pieces need to be tidied up to make it not only more worthwhile but a better product.
“If you look at the clubs that have made it down this way, it’s traditionally the clubs that have the bigger budgets, and I didn’t see anything different happening down here, and it will be the same in Auckland and in the South Island.
“It’s clear when you look at the players who left our club and other clubs, are you telling me they just left for a chance to play national league football?
“So, has it really changed the landscape? I think it’s probably made it harder for the smaller clubs, and it would be nice to see one of the smaller clubs in the national league, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Ifill added a salary cap is good in principle but is difficult to police.
“People will tell you it’s an amateur league, and nobody gets paid and they’re lying. There won’t be many players in the Central League that didn’t get payments this year.”
Ifill also coached the Tumu ITM Wairarapa United women to fourth in the W-League, but whether he is back for the 2022 season is unlikely, with his role as coach of the Samoan women’s team to take precedence.
“I’m likely to be away for five to six weeks with the Nations Cup with Samoa, and I’d find it difficult to commit.
“If you’re a player, you can just let the coach know that you will be away for a few weeks. But if you’re trying to get your players to commit to you and you’re going to be away for a big part of the season, I don’t think that’s fair. It might be that I assist somebody and help out, but I don’t think I will take it.”
If Ifill does pull back from the coach’s role, that would end four years at the helm, and a meteoric rise from strugglers to championship contenders with the team twice finishing second and fourth.
“I’m pretty proud. If you look at where we were when I took over, they had finished bottom of the W-league, hadn’t won a game, and let in like 86 goals or something crazy and scored less than 10. Then we came second, and then the following season we only missed out on goal difference.”
Ifill’s most satisfying achievements were the development of players such as Ana McPhee, now at a US university, and Tui Dugan in the national Under-20 squad.
However, one recent achievement by Shannon Newlyn stands out for him.
“When Shannon turned up a couple of years ago, she told me she wanted to play in the national league, and she texted me the other day saying that she had made the Central Federation squad. It brought a tear to my eye, and I was smiling and crying at the same time.
“I know how hard she has worked, and it’s really nice when you get the great stories about the Tuis, who is going to go on and play pro, but someone such as a Shannon, who has given absolutely everything she can to get to that level means everything to her.”
• Tomorrow: Ifill’s views on what the future looks like for Wairarapa United.