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Joy as Callan gets All Whites call

Wairarapa United legends Phil Keinzley and Paul Ifill are thrilled former club player Callan Elliot is on the All Whites squad to play China.

Elliot, 23, played for United in the Central League under Keinzley from 2016-18 while a student at Rathkeale College.

In his final year, he signed his first professional contract with the Wellington Phoenix before he joined the Greek club Xanthi. He returned to the Phoenix in 2021, and his solid form at fullback has been instrumental in the club’s charge towards a playoff spot in the A-League this season.

Born in Scotland, Elliot moved to New Zealand at age seven and grew up in the Nelson region before moving to Wairarapa in 2015 to join Ifill’s Rathkeale College-based academy.

Ifill said it took some time to convince Elliot’s parents to let the promising teenager make the move.

“I said I can’t promise anything, and if he comes up now, I think there’s an opportunity to turn pro, and it was really a case of him listening and wanting to learn and he was a sponge and he soaked it all in,” Ifill said.

“We had a good bunch of senior players at the club at the time, he fitted into the school well, and he worked hard at school and made sure that side of it was sussed.”

Elliot played for Heartland Wairarapa in the now-defunct youth national league, but it didn’t take long for Keinzley to recognise his attributes and include him in Wairarapa United’s Central League squad.

“There are things that you notice about good players that progress, and that is they have good support at home. His family support was really strong, and he was an extremely respectful person, and he wasn’t above himself.

“He was the sort of person that would help put out the cones and that sort of thing, and that came from his upbringing,” Keinzley said.

“I’ve always been rapt because when he turned up to me, he was a midfielder or striker, and I was the first person to ever put him as a fullback and had him playing there, and I copped a bit of flak at the time.”

The veteran coach added the positional change never affected Elliot because he wasn’t afraid to get out of his comfort zone, and that was a mark of a good player, a sentiment echoed by Ifill.

“He was somebody who thrived on a challenge. I remember sending him to [then Phoenix coach] Mark Rudan, and he rang me after a week and said, “the boy’s not good enough, but I really like his work ethic, so we’re going to give him another week just so he can say he’s been in here and it makes him feel better”.

“I didn’t hear from Mark for another couple of weeks, and then I thought, blimey, he’s been in there three weeks now, and he rang me in week four and said we think we’re going to give him a contract because we like his attitude,” Ifill said.

Elliot’s hard work has paid dividends for the Phoenix this season, with him leading the goal assists for the club and third equal in the A-League with four.

“I think he’s been class. Scoring and assisting from the fullback position is not easy, so he’s made a big impact his year,” Ifill said.

Elliot is the only new face in the All Whites, and interim All Whites coach Darren Beazley said he deserved his call-up after a great season with the Phoenix.
“He is a player I know well from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic campaign, so it will be great to see him in the full All Whites environment,” Beazley said.

The All Whites will play China at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium on March 23, and at Sky Stadium, Wellington, on March 26.

To cap a good week for former Ifill Academy and Wairarapa United players, goalkeeper Scott Morris has been named in the national Under-23 squad for the first time.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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