Towering Wellingtonian quickly finding his feet in the A-League

Lukas Kelly-Heald is relishing his first foray into professional football.

The 18-year-old defender, who stands at 1.98m tall, has started all five of the Wellington Phoenix’s matches to open the new Isuzu UTE A-League season as the Phoenix have made their best ever start to a campaign with three wins and two draws.

Kelly-Heald only graduated into the professional ranks in July when he signed a landmark four-year deal with the Nix.

“If you’d told me a couple of months ago I would have started the first four games of the A-League season, I would have said ‘you’re joking!’,” he said.

“It’s been amazing so far and it’s something I didn’t expect, but it’s gone really well. We’re still undefeated.

“It’s pretty surreal to be playing in front of Phoenix fans. I’ve always been one of the fans so it’s quite cool to be playing for them.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – JULY 06: New signing Lukas Kelly-Heald speaks to coach Giancarlo Italiano during a Wellington Phoenix training session at NZCIS on July 06, 2023 in Upper Hutt, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The proud Wellingtonian has credited his teammates for helping him make the step up to the A-League.

“With the group we’ve got they’re really supportive and that has made it way easier to step into this environment.

“Having Scotty [Wootton] next to me in the backline has been really helpful with his experience. He’s quite vocal as well so he’s been really good helping with my positioning and all that sort of stuff.”

He is also benefitting from the team’s youth focus.

“As a young player it’s what you hope for in a team that you have staff and players that back you and want to help you learn and get better. I’ve found it really beneficial.”

Assistant coach Adam Griffiths has had a lot to do with Kelly-Heald’s development in pre-season.

“He’s amazing. I didn’t really know what to expect from him as I’ve never really had a defensive coach as such.

“To have someone specifically for defending has been really, really beneficial. In regards to positioning and technique and everything he’s always happy to help and do the extra meetings.

“It definitely helps that he’s played the game at a high level as well. It means that he understands the little parts of the game that some coaches who haven’t played the game may not see.

“And he’s really good with young players as well. He’s always trying to help and if players want to do more, he’s more than happy to help.”

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 10: Lukas Kelly-Heald of the Phoenix controls the ball infront of Bruno Fornaroli of Melbourne Victory during the A-League Men round four match between Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park, on November 10, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Lukas Kelly-Heald has played his first four A-League matches at fullback, but is equally comfortable playing as a left-sided centre back.

“I don’t really mind either way as long as I’m out on the field to be honest.

“It’s a different role at fullback as I’m able to get forward and attack more as opposed to playing at the back.

“It’s not something that I really expected being able to get so many opportunities going forward, but I’m looking forward to getting a few more and hopefully putting one away.”

Kelly-Heald has already registered a couple of shots in his young A-League career and provided the cross for Oskar Zawada’s second goal in the 5-2 win over the Brisbane Roar in round three.

“It was pretty surreal. Being able to celebrate in front of the corner where all of the Yellow Fever were, is something that I’ve always dreamed of doing.

“It was such a good win as well, so it was a really proud moment.

“He (Zawada) gave me a couple of hits on the head as his way of saying thank you. It was pretty cool.”

It was in stark contrast to the rollercoaster of emotions he went through in his home debut at Sky Stadium a week earlier, when he committed a handball that gave the Perth Glory the chance to score a late equaliser from the penalty spot.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – NOVEMBER 04: Oskar Zawada of the Phoenix celebrates with Lukas Kelly-Heald after scoring a goal during the A-League Men round three match between Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar at Sky Stadium, on November 04, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Thankfully for Kelly-Heald and the Phoenix Alex Paulsen saved Adam Taggert’s spot kick.

“I wanted to go into a bit of a hole once I saw the referee go to VAR.

“But I had quiet confidence in AP. I’ve seen him save a few penalties in my time.

“I owe him a fair few meals and coffees as he saved my bacon.”

Twin brother Alby Kelly-Heald has been on the bench for the team’s past two A-League matches.

“It’s pretty cool. My parents are over the moon.

“I think it’s a pretty unusual to have twins in the same professional team so it’s quite special for my family.

“We’re pretty much carbon copies of each other, we do pretty much everything together and we’ve always played football together and been in the same teams.

“It’s quite cool to go through the ranks and now be in the same squad as each other for the first team.”

The next step is for the two to play alongside each other in the A-League.

“That would be pretty special moment. We get on quite well so it would be quite a cool thing to be in the same team playing together.”

Match Highlights – WPX Men vs Melbourne City (RD 5)