Football: Defender stands out in debut season

Matt Joy: "It is at the end of the games where we lose concentration because we don't have anyone there to keep us focused." Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Matt Joy: "It is at the end of the games where we lose concentration because we don't have anyone there to keep us focused." Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Otago United defender Matt Joy has had a sterling debut season but was nearly lost to the sport five years ago.

The 21-year-old has been a standout performer for Otago with his physical defence and ability to read the play. The 1.88m centre back has helped carried a young team that started well but has drifted off the pace in the past month after the departure of three key players.

Like a lot of young lads, Joy flirted with the idea of playing rugby when he was "15 or 16" and seriously considered switching codes.

"I was tossing up whether I wanted to continue and was actually considering rugby.

"I had had enough of football and wanted to try something different. I was keen on basketball and volleyball as well."

But Joy stuck with football, mainly because he had played for so long and could not quite make the move away.

He grew up in Christchurch and got his start as a 10-year-old. He moved to Dunedin when he was 13. His father, Aaron Joy, got a job managing the Masters Games.

It was not until Joy reached the senior ranks that he started taking the game more seriously.

"Once I started playing senior football I started enjoying it more, and in the last two or three years, I've really loved it."

Joy plays his club football for Dunedin Technical and said the step up had been big but he felt he had managed the transition smoothly.

Centre back is the heart of the defence and it is a tough position. Effective communication and some leadership is required. It is a big ask of someone in their first season at that level, but Joy has coped extremely well with the pressure.

"I do enjoy it and I really like the challenge. You have to win your headers, win your battles and clear the line. Just the basics."

Otago United started strongly and defied some of the critics, who questioned whether a team comprising mostly local talent could be competitive. Until recently, the team was still in the hunt for a place in the playoffs but the squad has been decimated with the departures of Michael Cunningham, Tom Connor and Darren Overton.

"Those three players had a massive role in our team. They were the experienced guys. It was a huge loss and we are just trying to rebuild at the moment and it has been tough.

"Without their experience, everyone has to step up. It did make room for players but you can't replace players like that. And since then we've had a draw and narrow losses.

"It is at the end of the games where we lose concentration because we don't have anyone there to keep us focused."

Otago United plays Canterbury United, a team it surprised with a 1-0 win in round five, in Christchurch on Sunday. Canterbury is in second place in the competition and will start as heavy favourite.

Joy described the 1-0 win against Canterbury as his best performance in the blue and gold jersey and hopes his side can upstage its neighbour again.

As Otago has fallen away, the team has had to change its approach.

"Our main goal at the start was to get in the top four but we've slipped. We were there for so long and so close but now we can't really do that now. Our main focus is on the White Ribbon Cup. The goal we got [in the 2-1 defeat to Canterbury on Sunday] has given us a chance."

If Otago beats Wellington by two goals or more, it will qualify for the White Ribbon final.