We recently caught up with Wellington Phoenix goalkeeper Oliver Sail, as he reflects back on his past A-League season – where he emerged as one of the top keepers in the competition – and tells us what he got up to during his break, as well as how he’s preparing for the 2021/22 season.
What have you been up to since the end of last season?
I took the opportunity to have a break, that’s for sure. My body has been carrying a few knocks, my elbow has needed a bit of a rest so I’ve been going to rehab for it and staying in touch with the medical team – staying on top of it so it’s 100% good to go next season.
Usually this time of year I’d be playing a lot of golf but because of my elbow I haven’t been able to play any, so I’ve just been in the gym, running, boxing and spending time with my girlfriend which has been really nice.
I hung around in Australia for a few weeks after the season, I went down to Melbourne where my girlfriend is currently working - I very narrowly missed the lockdown over there which is pretty pleasing.
And after that I’ve been in Auckland for the past three weeks, making the most of being home and having my dog Chino (a Border Collie) around and seeing my mates; it’s nice just to take my dog down to the park for a walk and throw the ball around for a bit, then shoot off and catch up with the boys for a coffee and a chat.
I’m just making the most of that down time really, just relaxing – I’m staying on top of my fitness but at the same time it’s pretty important to be able to switch off and relax as well.
Speaking of fitness, how do you keep yourself fit and active over the off-season?
I love the gym and throughout the season it can kinda get put on the backburner – we normally do two team sessions a week and I do my own little bits and pieces, but at the end of the day I can’t really afford to keep carrying fatigue into games and training sessions.
So it’s really nice to get into the gym in the off-season and go really hard to stay on top of it. And I box a lot; I come from a boxing family, all my family box and I grew up boxing all the way through high school. So I’m in the boxing gym 3-4 times a week which is wicked, and it’s good to catch up with those boys too.
I’ve got two younger brothers with me currently in Auckland, and another one back in New Zealand now after living in Korea. One of my brothers plays for North Harbour in the ITM Cup (rugby) and they’re about to fire up their season so he’s been pretty full on with their training at the moment - so we’ve had a few conditioning sessions down at the park which have been good fun.
It’s funny, my two younger brothers are tall like me [Oli is 6’4”], but my two older brothers are quite the opposite – they’re pretty short fellas so they get a bit of grief about it!
Have you been keeping in touch with the Phoenix players in Tokyo?
Yep, keeping in touch with the boys in Tokyo like AP [Alex Paulsen], Waino [Ben Waine], Clayton [Lewis] – they’re really excited obviously, the games are coming thick and fast for them now, and obviously what an experience for them! They were probably a little concerned it wasn’t going ahead at the beginning, but as you can imagine they’re all buzzing to get stuck in.
I’ve only met AP a handful of times, but I’ve stayed in touch with him since he joined one of our training sessions in Wellington last season [when the Phoenix returned for their 22 May match against Western United].
I told him to just enjoy it, to take it all in and keep working hard - because those other keepers have got a couple of years on him, so it’s a great experience for him and an opportunity for him to stake his claim for years to come as he’s going to be involved in that NZ setup for a long time.
So I told him to take it all in, work hard and make sure that you’re pushing those other boys.
Pre-season starts on Mon 26 July; what do you expect training to be like over the next few weeks?
Yeah obviously it’s frustrating to have things delayed by Covid and not going to plan right from the get-go, but that’s the world we’re living in at the moment and you’ve just got to roll with the punches.
I imagine that the first few weeks will be quite heavily conditioning load - because obviously there’s minimal tactical preparation you can do with a squad of six or so together at the moment.
Which is good and bad; on one hand we’ll have a running start on the other boys and on the season, it might not be my favourite thing to go out in that Wellington wind and rain but it’ll be good fun! And those kind of things always brings the players together, because we’re all in the same position, having to work hard and we’re all grinding it out together. It helps build that team chemistry early on.
For me the elbow’s coming along really well, I’ve been rehabbing it really hard almost every day and strengthening bits and pieces up and it’s responded well. To be honest, as much as the delays [due to Covid] have been frustrating, it’s probably been ideal for me as well – as I’m all cleared to train in a controlled environment but ideally I’d need a few more weeks before playing in a game [where you don’t have any control over what you’re going to be doing]. So the delays have worked in my favour in that regard.
And being back in Wellington is exciting too, not just for training but for the lifestyle too. I love the beach, I’m a real water boy – in Wellington I’d swim in the sea most days, every day in the summer and I’d even brave it sometimes in the winter too. And I love the dining/café culture of Wellington, I love going for coffees at all the different, quirky little spots in Wellington, getting out and trying different cuisines and stuff like that.
What are some of the positives that you and the team can find from last season?
I think you have to start off with the fact that we’re currently on an 11 match unbeaten run, if that’s something that we can really buy into throughout pre-season then imagine taking that for another 10 games to start the 2021/22 off on. We’ll be absolutely flying if we did that, so we’ve got to take a lot of confidence from that.
The other big positive to take away from last season is the young boys in the squad who really stood up and made the most of their opportunities as well; the likes of Waino, Sutts [Sam Sutton], Clayton and others who all came into their own.
And seeing Tim Payne really take on a leadership role too, we had the quality and experience in the squad of the likes of Tayls, Bally, Ulises and Fenton but then the young boys came in and got their opportunity and they really grasped it with both hands – that’s probably the biggest positive you’ve got to take out of last season.
A year that ultimately was frustrating for us, because with the quality of the squad it was disappointing not to make the top six.
What’s the mindset for next season?
If we can carry forward the momentum from that unbeaten run forward, I reckon we’ll be a force. I remember speaking to several players from around the A-League that were in the playoffs, boys from Macarthur, Melbourne City and Sydney – and they were all genuinely worried that we were going to make the playoffs, they really were! It’s easy to say and sometimes that kinda thing gets thrown out there like “oh you wouldn’t want to come up against us in the playoffs!” but I think this was a genuine thing.
So if we can continue to build off on that then no-one is going to want to play us next season. Wellington is always a tough place for opponents to play in anyway so hopefully we can turn that into a bit of a fortress, but even playing away from home last season our away record was pretty good – so he can look at build on that collectively as a team.
For me, there’s no excuses for not making playoffs football next season. Last year was extremely difficult and we all know the sacrifices that players and staff and everyone at the Club made, but for me this season needs to end in Finals football.
We’ve got enough quality, and retaining Uffy [Coach Ufuk Talay] for another two years is massive so I think we’ve gotta be right up there at the top by end of season. And being back at home next season with the great support shown from Wellingtonians.
Another thing that’s really exciting for me is getting Hoops back in the squad – it’s massive. We all know the quality and the experience that he brings from playing at the top level. I’ve been in touch with him while he’s in quarantine up in Auckland, saying if he needs anything to give me a shout.
Getting Hoops back is very pleasing from my end; I didn’t get to play on the field with him in his last stint with us, so I’m really looking forward to playing with him. He’s the kind of striker you love on your team as a goalkeeper, he’s an outlet for that longer ball, his hold-up play is brilliant and his defending of set pieces as well – he really throws himself about!
He’s the kind of striker you love to have on your side because he’ll do the job at both ends, and he’s a good outlet for myself personally as well.