Football: Wellington Phoenix goalkeeper Oliver Sail determined to maintain No.1 status

Oliver Sail is making up for lost time and making amends at the Wellington Phoenix.

The goalkeeper has started the last four games for the Phoenix, recording back-to-back clean sheets to help the club off the bottom of the A-League ladder.

After close to two years riding the pine, Sail finally got his opportunity in goal against the Western Sydney Wanderers last month - replacing All Whites stopper Stefan Marinovic.

"I was very confident I could do the job and I'd prepared how I should have," Sail said.

"So I was confident in myself, but there's that factor of doubt.

"I think it was like 663 days or something between A-League games for me, so there was a small inkling of like can I still do it? But I was definitely confident."

He played second fiddle to Marinovic throughout the stop-start 2019/2020 season, not getting a look in under new coach Ufuk Talay.

Sail opened up about the challenges of being a number two.

"Very difficult, because at the end of the day you're still paid to turn up and train and prepare the same as anybody else, but then you don't get rewarded with the best part of the week and the funnest day of the week, which is playing on the weekend.

"It is difficult, but you've got to never lose sight of what motivates you and I know what motivates me and I always keep that close to me.

"It's never an issue in terms of turning up and working hard every day and pushing for that, but I'd be lying if I said it's not tough at times and very frustrating."

Sail was in the golf cart with defender Tim Payne, who was charged with drink driving in Sydney last March, when they were supposed to be in isolation, an incident that cost him his spot on the Phoenix bench.

"Obviously that was a very disappointing episode of decision-making from myself and Tim.

"It was frustrating at the time last year because all I wanted was a chance when I was available for selection to play, and maybe just put it all behind me and kind of thank the club for backing us in this scenario and sticking with me.

"I didn't get that chance to play at all post the incident...that was hard because all I wanted was just an opportunity to say thank you and repay them I guess.

"It's something that I have put behind me now and we learn from those mistakes. Obviously, it's not something that I'm proud of, but it's another learning factor for me."

Sail's fortunes started to turn when the Phoenix moved to Australia to prepare for the new season.

"I was lucky throughout the pre-season," he said.

"I got given a good opportunity with Stef arriving slightly later. 

"I had a good run of games there, I felt very confident and I felt like, particularly in the back end of that pre-season when we were playing the A-League opposition, I was playing well and putting my hand up and staking my claim."

Stefan Marinovic
Stefan Marinovic Photo credit: Getty

He also made sure he was in Talay's ear.

"I was in his office a couple times a week telling him to play me and asking for a chance, so I'm very grateful for the opportunity he's given me."

Having waited so long for a chance, Oliver Sail is determined to retain his place in the starting line-up.

"Extremely motivated to keep that spot because when you've got a 'keeper of Stef's quality nipping at your heels, you've got to be on your game to keep that spot."

Sail believes his competition with Marinovic is "very healthy".

"It's brilliant for both of us. When I'm in the number two role and he's playing, I'm pushing him and now it's changed, which is something I've got to adapt to, that change in mentality.

"He's a fantastic trainer as well and a very professional bloke, so it definitely keeps me on my toes."

But he believes he's got the upper hand now he's playing.

"I think I'm going to get better because I'm going to have more and more game time.

"I'm going to be stringing regular games together which I haven't done in the A-League before."

Sail's opportunities in the starting line-up are also timely, with his contract up at the end of the season.

"That's always in the back of your mind," he said.

"I'm a big believer in you get what you deserve and I've been working for this opportunity for a long time. I knew it was coming, eventually!

"It was nice to have been given the opportunity and I just want to keep playing, enjoying my footy and putting my best foot forward and those sort of things will take care of themselves, so we'll see how that goes."