Ernie's intuition is now paying off

PAUL IFILL
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2014

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Phoenix

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OPINION: Many people, especially those from over the ditch, seem to be surprised with our winning run.

But from the moment Ernie Merrick spoke to us in our very first meeting it was clear that he had a vision for the club.

I remember coming out of the meeting fully believing that we would be able to achieve success in both the short and long-term.

As a 34-year-old coming towards the end of my career, I remember feeling hungrier than ever to be a part of his plan moving forward.

He said it may take us eight or nine games to feel at ease with the new system and change in style, but I think we took him a little too literally and gave the rest of the league a head start.

Since Christmas things have fallen into place and there is a renewed confidence within the playing group, staff and fans that the Phoenix are once again, at minimum, a playoff team.

Sunday's win over Newcastle featured the debuts of promising youngsters Josh Brindell-South and Alex Rufer.

It shows the development set-up at the Phoenix is alive and kicking and I think the blend of youth and experience will stand us in good stead.

Matthew Ridenton, 17, started the match in place of the injured Albert Riera, who has been outstanding since his move from Auckland City.

Matthew came in with big boots to fill, but gave an accomplished, mature performance that was beyond his years.

And another new player, Jason Hicks, capped a string of fine performances with an expertly taken winning goal.

Next up tomorrow are the Melbourne Heart at Westpac Stadium.

Who would have thought a few weeks ago that these would be the league's form teams, but it shows how football can be so unpredictable.

The Heart might be last but they will travel full of confidence after picking up 10 points from their last four games.

The in-form Harry Kewell has been ruled out with a foot injury, but with Heart's pace on the flanks, our fullbacks will have to be ready.

It should be a great game but if we're serious about the playoffs this is a game we should and will win.

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It has been 54 days since my operation and it's been, without doubt, the most inactive I have been in my 17-year career.

People ask me if I miss football, but at the moment I feel so far away from playing that it's the little things I miss, like walking unaided and driving.

The timing wasn't too bad as it meant I could have a nice Christmas with the family, but the healthy eating plan went out the window after my operation.

I figure I have many months to lose the few kilos I have added!

The family and I have been overwhelmed by Wellington's support.

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My next milestone is two days away when I will be able to take the moonboot off.

At least then the real rehab can begin.

I've had plenty of time to think about my future and my main focus is getting fit and having a go at returning to the A-League.

At my age, with an injury like this, that will obviously be tough but I truly believe it's possible.

If not, I hope to stay around to pass on my knowledge and experience to as many young Kiwis as possible.

It's been a really tough time for me personally, but my fiancee, Elle, and daughters, Romy and Bethany, have rallied around and been amazing as I know I'm not the world's best patient!

One thing I have missed is being around the boys on a daily basis.

There's nothing that can replicate training ground banter.

That's why I have been on Twitter so much lately, where at least I can keep up with most of what has been going on.

Paul Ifill on Twitter: @PaulIfill

- The Dominion Post

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