HE'S NOT as old as Wellington Phoenix goalkeeper Mark Paston but Richard Gillespie certainly knows the feeling.
"Obviously no one likes to be sitting on the bench and watch others on the team play," the Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United goalkeeper says before tomorrow's 1pm kick-off against Otago United in Napier.
The 30-year-old gloveman injured a knee days before round two of the ASB Premiership on November 6 when the Bay franchise soccer team drew 2-2 against YoungHeart Manawatu in Park Island. He hasn't been back on the field since.
His description of the inflammation of the knee, known as plica, is enough to bring water to most people's eyes.
"It's a nasty, vicious cycle and has become a stability issue," Gillespie says when asked if he has recovered from the knee dislocation to stake his claim again between the sticks.
But that's not the only reason why Gillespie hasn't slipped on the gloves since then.
Add to the swollen knee the pain of sitting on the sideline watching young Shaun Peta who is playing out of his skin.
"It's certainly frustrating because I've put in a lot of time on my fitness and the body's the fittest it has ever been," Gillespie says.
"You tend to ask the question, 'Why now when I've done everything possible to get myself into top shape'," says the Taradale Intermediate teacher who has played for Auckland City and Waitakere United.
His honours include Chatham Cup titles in 2007, 2008 Golden Boot Nifa, a treble of NZFC championship titles (2006-08) and just as many trips with Waitakere United to the World Club Championship.
However, Gillespie understands he and some of the senior players "aren't getting any younger" so listening to their bodies is crucial.
If they are looking for any indicators they need not look further than assistant coach Jonathan Taylor, of Napier, and midfielder Adam Cowan, of Palmerston North, in the squad.
"JT's expecting his second kid anytime soon and Adam's wife, Sarah, is another couple of weeks away from having a child, too, so it's pretty exciting times."
Selflessly, Gillespie is looking at occupying the bench to play the team card while Peta thrives.
"If Shaun is sent off or injured then I'll do the job. That's what it's all about, isn't it?
"Shaun has been outstanding in a couple of games and has done nothing wrong in the other games."
He often impresses on his intermediate pupils the significance of performing and keeping a track of goals while pushing towards achieving them.
If it's not a goer, then they must position themselves strategically for the window of opportunity before making their move.
"That's all you can ask of kids who are looking up higher for that chance."
Using that analogy he finds immense joy and satisfaction in seeing youngsters in the Bay United squad, such as Peta and centre-mid Tom Biss, keeping the oldies on their toes this summer.
Gillespie sees tomorrow's match as a must-win although, in the same breath, he acknowledges that has been their stance for the past four or five games.
"Against Auckland City last weekend, we were outstanding in patches," he says of the 3-1 defeat at the Bluewater Stadium.
Otago coach Richard Murray is rueing the loss of experienced trio Tom Connor, Mike Cunningham and Darren Overton to jobs and playing higher level footy in Australia.
"That's the nature of the beast," the Dunedin schoolteacher says.
"It's very much about developing players in our wider squad, too," says Murray whose franchise has developed pathways for their academy age-group players to tour overseas and eventually secure playing contracts with more elite clubs.
"It's simple, you don't get experience until you run on to the park either this season, the next or the one after that," he says, adding the Otago side that beat the Bay 2-0 at home are now looking somewhat anaemic.
He put their demise down to the haves, such as Auckland City, Christchurch United, Waitakere United and Team Wellington, and the have-nots such as the remaining franchises in small centres. "Some of them have bought imports but they are going back to the drawing board to find strength," Murray says. He adds Waikato United coach Declan Edge is a classic example of someone who is at the other extreme - of sticking at it for several years but would now face the challenge of keeping his players in the province from elite suitors.
"I think it's a good thing that Declan's doing. He's brought in Michael Mayne whose experience is making a big difference," he says of Edge, who secured the services of the former New Zealand under-20 midfielder and captain in a squad of predominantly teenagers.
Murray says Otago United struggle to retain players in the 25 to 30-year-old range because Dunedin is predominantly a student city where young talent eventually leaves for greener pastures after graduating from the tertiary institutions.
Age-group Otago players have gone to the Singapore under-15 tourney before jetting off to play in the Milk Cup in Ireland against Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspurs counterparts.
"The premiership here was built up as an amateur league platform for under-23s to go on to play for teams like the Phoenix but we've gone away from that.
"We can't compete with the money floating around Auckland and Canterbury."
Costa Rican Jose Cantillo, who went to a US college with Aajay Cunningham, has joined the squad although it remains a mystery why he isn't in the YoungHeart squad considering he lives in Palmerston North.
It is rumoured a versatile Cantillo is heading for Napier City Rovers after the premiership to play in the Central League. Otago, he says, should be in a better position but they had a "brain freeze and slumped to bad habits".
WHO: Hawke's Bay United v Otago United
WHERE: Bluewater Stadium, Napier
WHEN: Tomorrow, 1pm.
Referee: Chris Kerr.
Head to head: Played 19, Hawke's Bay 10 wins, Otago 5 wins, 4 draws.
Previous result: Otago United 2, Hawke's Bay United 0 _ Round 4.
HAWKE'S BAY UNITED form: LWWLL.
The players: Dale Higham(suspended), Matt Gould (shoulder) and Rudi Bauerfiend (broken arm) are unavailable. Alex Barlow has departed the club for Australia, so coach Chris Greatholder names the
same squad he utilised last week.
The vital statistics: Bluewater Stadium is a happy hunting ground for Hawke's Bay United when playing host to Otago United with five consecutive wins notched since 2007. Adam Cowan made his 130th
ASB Premiership career appearance in the match with Auckland City last Monday.
Squad list: 1- Richard Gillespie (GK), 2- Fergus Neil, 4- Stu Wilson, 5- Bill Robertson (c), 6- Stephen Hindmarch, 7- Matt Hastings, 8- Adam Cowan, 10- Sam Margetts, 11- Conor Tinnion, 14- Danny Wilson, 17- Tom Biss, 18- Hamish Watson, 20- Leon Birnie, 21- Josh Margetts, 22- Jerome Groot, 26- Shaun Peta (GK).
Coach: Chris Greatholder.
OTAGO UNITED form: LLLLD.
The players: Coach Richard Murray has lost three of his most experienced players in Tom Connor, Mike unningham and DarrenOverton and that has shown up in Otago United's dip in form. Donnie MacGregor, Liam Lockhart, James Govan (replaced) and back-up goalkeeper Oswaldo Rodriguez (unavailable) are left out.
The vital statistics: Otago United beat Hawke's Bay at Bluewater Stadium three times consecutively between 2005 and 2007 but have lost on every visit since then. Otago United's biggest win over Hawke's Bay in Napier was a 3-0 victory chalked up in 2005.
Squad list: 22- Peter Evans (GK), 3- Tristan Prattley (c),4- Jude Fitzpatrick, 5- Matt Joy, 6-Morgan Day, 7-Regan Coldicott, 8- Seamus Ryder, 10- Ant Hancock, 14- Sam Mepham, 18- Harley Rodeka, 20- Matt Brook, 21- Jose Cantillo, 23-Joel Stevens, 25- Craig Ferguson,27- Aajay Cunningham.
Coach: Richard Murray. NZF