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Tears flow as Ifill bids club farewell

Paul Ifill leaps a North Wellington player in his final home game for Wairarapa United. PHOTOS/FILE


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Paul Ifill admits to being “pretty much in tears” when he spoke at the Wairarapa United prizegiving on Saturday about his pending move to Christchurch United.

Ifill last week accepted the role of men’s first team coach and the head of the new women’s academy being established at the Christchurch club, allowing him to work full-time in football.

“I will be coaching every day, which is what I’ve always wanted and all under one roof.

“I’m quite excited that I still get to work in the male and female game, and that’s something that’s important to me,” said the Wellington Phoenix legend, who was immediately impressed by the facilities at Christchurch United.

“What they’re trying to do is what you do if you have the money – if that makes sense.

They’ve got two Astroturf pitches, numerous grass pitches, cafes, changing rooms, offices, and everything there is state-of-the-art.

“All of the training sessions with the first team and academy are recorded so you can go straight online and have a look at what you’ve done, and all the games are recorded, so it really is a professional setup.”

Since arriving at Wairarapa United in 2015 after his retirement from the Phoenix, Ifill has held the role of player-coach, until he was “sacked” by then president Phil Keinzley, player, board member, and coach of the club’s W-League side.

The latter role led to Ifill being appointed coach of the Samoan women’s team, who he will continue to coach through the 2022 Oceania Nations Cup.

Ifill said the sacking in his second season as player-coach was probably the best thing for his coaching career.

“It allowed me to go away and work on things I needed to be a better coach, and I went back and played under Phil the following year and there was no animosity, and it worked really well.

Callan Elliot, playing for Wairarapa United, has forged a successful professional career.

Ultimately that got me back in coaching the women and that was amazing, and I had a great time with two seconds in a row and two fourths in the W-League.”

Keinzley said it took a lot of work to convince Ifill to move to Wairarapa.

“He was getting chased by several clubs, so it took a lot of work and energy, not only talking about the football but the way of life in Wairarapa, the culture and [Ifill’s wife] Elle with her horses and what a great place it is to live, so it was bigger picture stuff at the time.”

Keinzley said that Ifill was a success story for the club and the community in general and that he will be a big loss, especially with his football knowledge.

“I used him for years to bounce ideas off, and he was good at keeping confidences, and he was very handy for his contacts with players, especially once covid-19 hit, and trying to find players within New Zealand.”

Wairarapa United Gill Flower reiterated Keinzley’s comments that Ifill would be a massive loss to the club and said “we were all in tears” at Saturday’s prizegiving.

“He’s grown in the time he’s been with us, and I believe that Canterbury now have a fantastic asset coming their way,” said Flower.

“We’re going to stay in touch with him as much as we can and expand our horizons, and we’re going to be building on what Paul has already created. We now have a place where the likes of Riley Grover, for example, he’s going to Canterbury University and so he can go and play for Paul, so we’re going to have another step available.”

The Paul Ifill Football Academy [PIFA], based at Rathkeale College, will continue to run under head coach, former All White Cameron Lindsay, with Ifill overseeing the operation.

“We train twice a week on a Monday and Wednesday, and the likelihood is I will be there on Monday but not on a Wednesday.

“I will be there a little less, but I will still be involved and I’m looking to get another coach to help Cam, and Pifa will still be linked with Wairarapa United.”

Ifill said there are many people to thank during his time with Wairarapa United.

“First, Phil for having the foresight to get me in, and I know I had the reputation as a player, but I hadn’t coached at that point, and I think his allowing me to come in and fail a few times was brilliant.”

He said from a development point of view seeing all the young boys such as current Phoenix professional Callan Elliot, Jonty Roubos, Josh Rudland, and Riley Grover climb through the playing ranks has been a highlight. The progress of some of his women players was particularly satisfying.

Ana McPhie, on the ball, gained a US university scholarship under the guidance of Paul Ifill.

“It’s cool when you see an Ana McPhie go off to a US university when she didn’t think she was academically sound and you sort of helped her with that side of that, and then someone like Tui [Dugan] goes off to the Phoenix.

“And there are the other stories like Shannon [Newlyn] who came to me three seasons ago and said she wanted to play national league, and I remember thinking that’s so difficult and that she’s going to have to do so much work.

“She’s now playing in the national league for Central. That’s a great success story; because of her hard work and perseverance and listening and learning she’s got there. It’s little things like that that keep you coming back.”

Ifill said twice making the quarterfinals of the Chatham Cup and suffering unlucky losses to Auckland sides Central United and Birkenhead, as well as finishing second in the 2015 Central League to a very strong Napier City Rovers were highlights of his United playing career.

He won’t be lost to Wairarapa though, and his wife Elle and daughter Romy remain in the region.

Ifill intends to work behind the scenes with Wairarapa United in their search for a women’s coach to replace him and the pending merger with Greytown before he joins Christchurch United.

“When I do go, probably in January, I want to make sure the club is in a better spot than when I got here, and I think that’s important.”

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