It's easy to miss the incremental gains during a footy season, especially when a team's campaign starts losing its oomph.
Despite the 4-2 loss on the road to the Eastern Suburbs, the Thirsty Whale Hawke's Bay United side were exposing home-grown talent to the potential national summer league contenders in Auckland.
"I felt like I'd gained a bit of confidence and I sort of felt like I was good enough to play at that level," says Sam Wall after making his Bay United debut off the bench in the place of Havelock North teenager Kenny Willox late in the second half.
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No doubt Wall found it exciting but had appreciated the other lads help in soothing his jangled nerves at Riverhills Park.
"I'll definitely be a lot more confident when I get subbed in next," said the 16-year-old midfielder before the Chris Greatholder and Bill Robertson co-coached side kick off at midday against third-placed Waitakere United at Seddon Fields in Auckland today.The Lindisfarne College Year 12 pupil had made an impact not long after he had run on last weekend. He had made a deft pass to his left flank to find Angus Kilkolly on the top of the penalty box. The Hastings-born striker drilled a worm burner that took a deflection off Alec Solomons' knee to narrow the deficit to 3-2 in the 77th minute.
Wall again was involved when Lilywhites skipper Adam Thurston's penalty kick had sealed the game for the hosts for a 90th-minute foul on Matt Palmer. Centre back Robertson had shoved Wall into the path of Palmer in the box but the teen's frantic clearance kick instead took out the substitute player. Thurston had Bay United captain Ruben Parker Hanks diving the wrong way.
Wall is no stranger to high-octane competition. He was part of the Thirsty Whale Napier City Rovers' emphatic campaign to lift the Chatham Cup (symbol of national knockout supremacy) last winter.
He considers himself lucky to have gotten on to the park in his first call up to the Bay United playing squad but those who have seen him play will tell you it's more due to his attitude and work ethics than just good fortune.
Wall agrees Bay United's flagging campaign had opened the doors to experiment with emerging talent in the province.
Ninth-placed Bay United defeated Waitakere United at Park Island but the latter are coming off a 3-0 victory over Hamilton Wanderers.
"We can do it again if we just perform well," says Wall before the week 18 match.
He has been a member of the five-time Chatham Cup champions Rovers since he was 11, following in the footsteps of older brother Willis, 20, a former Napier Marist first division player who is now at university.
Wall believes he's becoming smarter in playing alongside the likes of Bay United midfielders Sho Goto and Gavin Hoy.
The former Ongaonga School pupil, the son of Central Hawke's Bay livestock farmers Pandada and John Wall, started at the age of 4 as a striker but moved to defensive midfield at 13.
Sam Wall has lofty ambitions to make it as a professional, drawing inspiration from former Wellington Phoenix midfielder Sarpreet Singh that anything is possible after Singh is coming off the bench for Bayern Munich's first team.