HAMILTON youngster Daniel Finlay has taken a step closer to realising his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
The 17-year-old has spent the past week training with the Wellington Phoenix – New Zealand-s only fully professional football club – in the capital after winning a scholarship set up and funded by Phoenix supporters- group Yellow Fever.
Under the watchful eye of Phoenix and All Whites coach Ricki Herbert, Finlay has played a full part at training alongside Kiwi stars Shane Smeltz, Glen Moss and Ben Sigmund, Brazilian ace Daniel and Aussie enforcers Andrew Durante and Jon McKain.
Waikato under-19 representative Finlay admitted to being a little awestruck by the opportunity.
“It-s been fabulous, just crazy. I-ve had the chance to be a part of everything the team-s done and be around all the players. They-ve been great helping me out a lot by giving me pointers about what I need to do as a player in my position as a midfielder and in certain on-field situations. I-ve learned heaps.”
But the dream visit almost didn-t happen, Finlay said.
“I suffered an ankle injury the weekend before I was to join the Phoenix, but painkillers and strapping got me through and I was able to train with the team. Nothing was going to stop me from taking part.”
Finlay said Yellow Fever had done an incredible job getting him the training stint with the Hyundai A-League club.
“Yellow Fever-s been awesome; they-ve laid everything on for me and my dad, from accommodation and flights through to providing us with a car to use while we-re here.”
Yellow Fever spokesman Guy Smith said the inaugural scholarship was aimed at promoting football in New Zealand. The group-s 4700-plus members voted on the most worthy recipient from five shortlisted candidates nationwide, with Finlay getting the call.
“We have a lot of young fans involved with Yellow Fever who are crazy Phoenix fans so it was chance to get them involved and also an opportunity to give something back to the football community. Our members got to pick the winner by voting on our website and ultimately it-s their money that-s paid for Daniel-s experience.”
Smith said Yellow Fever hoped to award the scholarship annually.
“We want to make it an annual event whereby we work in with the Phoenix to give young, promising and aspiring footballers the opportunity of a lifetime to experience being a professional for a week.”
Now that Finlay-s had a taste of being a pro, he wants more. But for now he-s being patient.
“It-d be pretty awesome to come and play for the Phoenix but right now my next aim is to play for Waikato in the New Zealand Football Championship.”