O'Keeffe picked for games

Michael O'Keeffe has been named as one of two goalkeepers in the 18-man New Zealand men's Olympic football team
Michael O'Keeffe has been named as one of two goalkeepers in the 18-man New Zealand men's Olympic football team

Five hours seemed like an eternity for Marlborough footballer Michael O'Keeffe yesterday.

Thankfully, the wait was worth it and at 3pm he received the news he had been named one of two goalkeepers in the 18-man New Zealand men's football team, dubbed the Oly-Whites, to play at the London Olympics.

The Olympics start in just five weeks.

Based in Wellington while on summer break from Fairfield University in Connecticut, the 21-year-old found out in the morning the team was set to be announced and said having to wait until 3pm made it "one of the most nervous days of my life".

"I was hanging around home and I kept checking my emails but nothing had come through. Then I had to go to the physio and I was heading there on the bus when I got a text from my goalkeeping coach [Mark Oates] saying congrats and that I'd made it.

Brought up in Blenheim since moving from Auckland with his family when he was 3, O'Keeffe said it was very satisfying that all the sacrifices he had made to get to this point had been worth it.

"All that hard work, and coming from Blenheim I had to make a lot of sacrifices – moving away from home and living away since I was 16, not seeing my family a lot, not being able go out and having to train instead. It's neat all those sacrifices have paid off and I can reap the rewards."

O'Keeffe said "very proud" parents Pete and Deb were the first people he texted to pass on the good news.

Deb O'Keeffe said she was "really rapt" to find out her son had made it.

She had already bought tickets to New Zealand's matches in London without knowing if Michael had made the team, and said she could start booking her flights.

Fittingly, the other goalkeeper named in the side is O'Keeffe's former New Zealand under-17 team-mate and close friend Jake Gleeson. The pair attended the 2007 Fifa Under-17 World Cup together.

Although he and Gleeson would be competing for the starting spot in the goal, O'Keeffe said their close friendship meant whoever was picked to start would get plenty of support from the one who was not.

 

Oly-Whites balance 'right'

GAMES NAMES

Oly-Whites squad

Goalkeepers: Jake Gleeson, Michael O'Keeffe.

Defenders: Ian Hogg, Tim Myers, Tommy Smith, Ryan Nelsen*, Adam Thomas, James Musa

Midfielders: Tim Payne, Michael McGlinchey*, Alex Feneridis, Cameron Howieson, Adam McGeorge.

Forwards: Kosta Barbarouses, Shane Smeltz*, Chris Wood, Marco Rojas, Dakota Lucas.

* Selected as one of three over 23-aged players. On standby: Michael Eagar, Cameron Lindsay, Luke Rowe, Scott Basalaj.

Olympic build-up

New Zealand U-23 v Japan U-23, National Stadium Tokyo, Japan July 11

New Zealand U-23 v Korea Republic U-23, Seoul, South Korea July 14

New Zealand U-23 v UAE U-23, location TBC July 19

Olympic schedule

July 26 New Zealand v Belarus, City of Coventry Stadium, Coventry 7.45pm (6.45am, July 27 NZT)

July 29 New Zealand v Egypt, Old Trafford, Manchester 12pm (11pm, July 29 NZT)

August 1 New Zealand v Brazil, St James' Park, Newcastle 2.30pm (1.30am, August 2 NZT)

Four 2010 World Cup All Whites have been named in the New Zealand men's football team for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Captain Ryan Nelsen, Tommy Smith, Shane Smeltz and Chris Wood have all made Neil Emblen's 18-man side.

With the ability to select three players over 23, Emblen has chosen to give those berths to Nelsen, Smeltz and All Whites midfielder Michael McGlinchey.

McGlinchey is a late addition after it emerged that All Whites defender Winston Reid had chosen to stay with his club West Ham United  recently promoted to the English Premier League.

Emblen said whittling down the squad was always going to cause headaches but he feels he's found the right balance.

"It's a small squad for a tournament of this stature which means there were some very tough decisions to make, but I feel the group selected gives us some tactical flexibility as well being pretty exciting," he said.

"The over-age players give us a good balance and experience down the spine of the team  we've been able to pick the All Whites' premier defender, first choice midfielder and most prolific striker even though those players aren't required to be released by their clubs.

"Ryan's influence in particular will be massive for a group that includes players as young as 17 and any time you can include a player in your squad that was commonly regarded as one of the best at the World Cup in South Africa it's a boost for your side's chances.

"Then you throw in the likes of Smith, Barbarouses, Wood, Rojas and Gleeson and the team core has got a good solid look to it, but we'll need every single member of the squad to be at their best against some very tough teams."

In addition to the squad confirmed yesterday, four Wellington players have been placed on standby. They are Cameron Lindsay, from the Wellington Phoenix, and Michael Eagar, Luke Rowe and goalkeeper Scott Basalaj from Team Wellington.

The Oly-Whites leave for London on July 9 via Asia, where they play Olympic-bound Japan and Korea Republic on July 11 and 14 respectively before meeting fellow finalists UAE in Europe in their final warm-up on July 19.

New Zealand have been grouped with Belarus, Egypt and Brazil in Group C of the 16 nation finals, opening their campaign against the Belarusians in Coventry on July 26, one day before the games' opening ceremony.

The New Zealand Olympic team now totals 154, with the full team to reach about 185.

The Football Ferns 18-player squad for the Olympics will be announced on June 29.

 

The Marlborough Express