Coveny calls time on glittering career

VAUGHAN COVENY admits he didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed by emotion when he announced his retirement from professional football to his Wellington Phoenix teammates.

VAUGHAN COVENY admits he didn-t expect to be so overwhelmed by emotion when he announced his retirement from professional football to his Wellington Phoenix teammates.

“To be honest it was one of the hardest things I-ve ever had to do,” the veteran striker said of telling his teammates about his decision to call time on a glittering career.

“To stand in front of such a special group of players and coaches and say thanks to everyone and to tell them I was ending my career was very emotional. I didn-t expect to get so teary-eyed, frankly. But I think it-s a good thing to show your emotions and all the guys had tears in their eyes when we got together, shook hands and they wished me the best.

“That was a marvellous tribute, to have my fellow players pay me such respect. I-m hugely thankful for that.”

After an illustrious 17-year career as a professional footballer in the club and international arenas, Coveny more than deserves that respect, from the footballers he played with and against and from football fans throughout New Zealand and Australia.

Coveny remains New Zealand-s all-time leading goalscorer in internationals, knocking in 30 goals from 75 matches for the All Whites. While he winds up his professional playing career with the Phoenix in his hometown of Wellington, Coveny also had a long and successful career in Australia.

After playing for Newlands United, Porirua Viard, Waterside Karori and Miramar Rangers in Wellington, Coveny headed across the Tasman in 1992.

He played in the old National Soccer League and the with the Melbourne Knights and the Wollongong Wolves before beginning an 11-year stint with South Melbourne in the NSL and Victorian Premier League.

It was while he was with South Melbourne that he got the call to join the Newcastle Jets in the Hyundai A-League, with whom he made 31 appearances and scored nine goals.

That led to his dream move - a return home to Wellington join the Phoenix. Now his top-flight playing career ends in the city where it began.

“It-s the ultimate, really. When I left in 1992 to go over to Australia I never would have thought that I-d be able to come back in 2007 and be part of a professional team in Wellington. It-s the end of a great career and leaves a sweet taste in my mouth. I-m finishing where it all started for me, in front of my family and friends and with a group of players I admire and respect.”

The 37-year-old said his decision to retire from professional football had been a tough one to make.

“It was time for me to move on. I haven-t had a lot of opportunities this year and I haven-t made the sort of contribution I would have liked. It was a gut feeling that it was the right move for me and the club. I-ve got some other avenues I-d like to go down, like getting into coaching, because I-m still young enough to pursue some new things.

“Right now my family is the biggest consideration. Now I-ll be able to spend a lot more time with my wife and two children and that-s something I-m really looking forward to.

“It was also important for me to also make the decision on my own terms. I always wanted to make the decision myself and not be pushed, and I wasn-t. I give a lot of credit to (Phoenix coach) Ricki Herbert because he showed a lot of faith in me when he brought me to the club. I was an older player and people where asking ‘why are you bringing him?- But Ricki stood by me and believed in me, as did (Phoenix owner) Terry Serepisos, who has done wonderful things for Wellington, New Zealand and the game.”

Looking back on his storied career, Coveny said there were many standout memories.

“Playing for your country I think is the ultimate goal for any footballer. I played 75 times and had some great years with the national team. I spent 15 years in Australia building my name, more than 10 years with South Melbourne - a club that was great to me and which gave me so much.

“I-m also hugely grateful to Newcastle. I thought my career was over four years ago when the Hyundai A-League started. I thought there was no chance for me but the Jets offered me a place and I was fortunate to spend two very successful years with them. It was a lifeline for me. Then to go on and spend two years in Wellington with the Phoenix, what more could I ask for.”

While the good memories have shunted any regrets well into the background, Coveny does admit one unfulfilled career ambition still rankles at little.

“In my early years I had some opportunities to go overseas. Everyone strives to do that and I was no different. Unfortunately it was difficult at the time because of problems I had with passport issues and so forth. That-s probably one thing I-ll look back on with any degree of regret - could I have played overseas at the highest level?

“But I-ve had a wonderful life and career as a professional footballer in Australia and New Zealand, so I don-t have many regrets at all.”

Coveny believes he leaves the game in New Zealand in great heart. He is immensely proud of helping players such as Shane Smeltz, Costa Barbarouses and Greg Draper go from strength to strength.

“I want to see the game prosper in New Zealand. The Phoenix have allowed the game to take huge strides here and I want to see all the players at the club have long careers like I have.

“Youth-wise, the Phoenix must have a team in the new (Australian) National Youth League because that will help us develop young players. We have to push hard for that because there are definitely a lot of talented young players in New Zealand who need to have opportunities and to learn from top coaches.

“I-d also love to see the All Whites qualify for the World Cup. But it-s always hard internationally. There are limited resources and finances and I found during my time with the national team that it was difficult to attract teams to play. Having New Zealand get to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 will change that - it would be massive for the game in this country.”

A move back to Melbourne could be on the cards for the Coveny family, but right now at the top of the list of priorities is some time out to take stock.

“I just want to spend a little bit of time sitting back and assessing what I want to do. As I say, I-m very interested in coaching and I-m working on my badges at the moment. I-ve still got that competitive desire - it-s in my blood. I love winning and I-ll probably continue to play in some capacity. I still enjoy the game and I still want to be involved.”

That involvement could well come on Sunday, with the Phoenix facing a must-win clash against Adelaide United at Westpac Stadium. And it could be Coveny-s perfect last hurrah to Phoenix fans, with coach Herbert including Coveny in an extended squad for the crunch match.