Wellington Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante goes 1v1 with the PFA to discuss his ten years in the A-League, the rise of the competition, his ambitions for the 11th season and much more.

Q: You are now into your 11th season in the A-League; how does the build-up to this campaign compare to the inaugural season of the competition?

AD: The first season there was a lot of excitement. There was a real transformation from the old NSL to the A-League and everyone I think was more curious than anything to see what this new league would be like. The media hype was a lot bigger than what we had experienced in the NSL so that was a big change.

There was still so much to learn and there were a lot of teething problems at clubs. I know at Newcastle there were things that weren’t up to scratch but you could see there was going to be progress made. You fast-forward ten or 11 years and it has changed dramatically. We have had big players like Heskey and Del Piero so it has come a long way, especially the standard on the pitch. The amount of Socceroos that have come through the A-League has increased out of sight and that shows the improvement that has been made.


Q. After three seasons and a Championship with Newcastle you decided to join Wellington; did you think you would be racking up eight seasons with the club?

 AD: I originally signed a two-year deal to come over here and I didn’t know a hell of a lot. I knew the club was keen to have me on board and I felt like I was really wanted. I thought I would probably do two-years then head back to Australia but I have loved it here. I have had three girls over here and we own property and I became an All White, which if someone had told me that before we came over here I would have told them they were crazy. I have been really fortunate that Ricky (Herbert) wanted me to be part of the All Whites. I have loved every minute here and it’s likely that I will finish my career here.


Q. How has the club changed in your time there?

AD: The respect levels from across the Tasman have changed a lot. I think since Ernie (Merrick) has been involved we have been seen as a real threat. Last year we were top of the table with four or five games to go, we played some great football and had the Johnny Warren Medallist so we had so many positives. We have recruited really well with players like Roly Bonevacia and Michael McGlinchey these guys have really added another dimension to this team. We had a good team in my first year here but the brand of football we are playing now is on another level and we are now able to attract better players than we were able to get previously in the early years.

Andrew D

Q. Did you exceed even you own expectations last season?

AD: We kept re-evaluating where we were as a team as the season went on. Our goal before the season started was to be in the top six. Having finished second last the season before we just wanted to be in the play-offs. As the season progressed we realised how well we were playing and that we could mix it with anyone and then we readjusted our goals to be in the top four. In the last game of the season if we won we would have finished second and had the one v two play-off. We ended up finishing fourth but that was how close it was. It was exciting and I loved every minute of last season and it has just given us a taste of what we can achieve. The boys want that feeling back again this year.


Q. The loss to Melbourne City in the Semi-final surprised a lot of people; how hard was it for you to take after the season you had had?

AD: I was extremely confident that at home we could turn them over and progress to the next round. Our form coming into the semis wasn’t great, I think we lost four out of the last five at home leading into the finals but even considering that I thought at home a crunch game, where there is no tomorrow if you lose, I thought we would come out of the blocks and take it to them. It was massively disappointing that we didn’t. It was really hard to take and it really bugged me for a long time. Hopefully lessons have been learned and we will finish a lot stronger and take more form into the Semi-finals. If it is lessoned learned, it is not a bad thing to have happened.


Q. Because of that loss did the players seem to return even more determined for pre-season?

AD: The whole pre-season has been really focused. Ernie has drummed it into us that he doesn’t want us to forget that feeling of how easily we bowed out of that Semi-final and he is a real hard task-master. I think we will be better for that, but as I said earlier, as long as we can learn from it and remember these feelings it will hold us in good stead.


Q. What has the feeling been like in the build-up to this season?

AD: Everyone is very confident. We have had a good pre-season. We went to Sydney for a week’s camp, where we played Western Sydney Wanderers a state league team and Sydney FC and come back with three wins and played extremely well so that has helped. We have a very similar team to last year, which has helped. Burnsy (Nathan Burns) is the main guy we have lost but we have brought in some quality as well in Jeffrey Sarpong, Blake Powell and Kwabena Appiah, who came in late last season, so he is now hitting his straps so we have a very exciting team.


Q. How important do you think it was keeping the vast majority of the squad together?

AD: I think stability is the key to success. If you look at the top team in Melbourne Victory they have managed to keep their top players, with the exception of (Mark) Milligan and that is really important. If you keep turning over players you have to teach the new players the system and the philosophy and that takes time. The players here understand the system and Ernie’s philosophy, and we have added in some quality. Hopefully that holds us in good stead.


 Q. Finally, what do you think is needed to take the game to another level?

AD: The talk is always about us becoming the biggest code in Australia. We are not quite there yet but I think everyone can see the potential of the game. As long as we are all pulling in the same direction and the professionalism increases there is no reason why football can’t be the number one sport in Australia. The other codes are probably scared. From season one to now it has grown massively and in 10 years time we could potentially be Australia’s biggest sport.

Each week the PFA will go 1v1 with a current or former players to gain an insight into the lives footballers on and off the pitch.