What happened to Wellington’s under-23 POTY winners?

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Nine separate winners of the Wellington Phoenix’s U-23 player of the season. Nine differing and varied careers. How did each winner end up?

2009/10: Troy Hearfield

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Hearfield was the inaugural winner of this award, and it was sadly close to the peak of his career. Following 70 appearances in Wellington, Hearfield traded the Kiwi club for the Central Coast Mariners in the 2011/12 season where he would lift an A-League premiership. It was all downhill from there.

It was the 2012/13 season, and the Mariners were on their way to their first A-League championship. Everyone was riding high – everyone except Hearfield. The Tamworth born utility had seen just 32 minutes of football before a failed drugs test saw things go from bad to unbelievably worse.

Hearfield was given a one-year ban from football, and his contract was terminated. While he has since returned to playing football, it looks like his professional career is over. He is currently in his hometown playing with Tamworth FC.

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2010/11: Marco Rojas    

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The Kiwi Messi fits into an odd category of players who are both too good for the A-League yet not good enough to make an impact overseas. Coming through Wellington’s ranks via the Retro Ricki Youth Scholarship, Rojas impressed over his two seasons in Wellington and won young player of a month for February 2011. However,  staying in Wellington was not for him and he arrived for his first stint at the Victory ahead of the 2011/12 season.

Two years and a Johnny Warren Medal later, Rojas had his first try at Europe. He managed zero appearances for VfB Stugart, and two failed loans saw him back at the Victory with his tail between his legs.

There, he reminded Australia everyone what he could be with a fantastic 2016/17 season. Once again, a move to Europe beckoned and once again, a move to Europe was disappointing – things just did not work out at either SC Heerenveen and SønderjyskE. Now at the Victory for a third time, will we see history repeat itself?

2012/13: Louis Fenton 

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Injury is what has defined Fenton’s career.

Bursting onto the scene as a rare bright patch in 2012/13, the Tawa product would be the first recipient of the award following its year-long break. Barring brief spells at Team Wellington and Melbourne Knights, Fenton’s entire career has been spent with the Phoenix, mostly at right-back.

Yet Fenton’s fate – despite his immense quality – has been to be on the sidelines. After two dislocated shoulders, and a leg and foot break, you have to feel sorry for him. As has been the case far too often, the 26-year-old is once again out with injury.

2013/14: Tyler Boyd 

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If Boyd was breaking through now, he would probably be starting every week. But the Phoenix of his time were not as youth-adjacent as they are today, and he could not get in the starting XI.

Even so, he still won the U-23 player of the year in 2013/14, but another season on the bench followed and the Nix lost their gem for free.

What a mistake. Boyd would spend a few years at Vitória de Guimarães, and while he failed to get into their first team, a few loans would earn him a multi-million move to Beşiktaş and he has since chosen the US national team over New Zealand.

2014/15: Roly Bonevacia 

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The only foreigner on this list, Bonevacia was one of the finds of the 2014/15 season. His ability in the centre of the park saw him become one of Wellington’s main threats and his playmaking and dynamism brought an entirely new element to the Nix.

When he signed a new contract in 2014/15, he said he would not leave until he had won the league. He left in the 2016/17 off season for Western Sydney having not won the A-League. After a couple of seasons there, he would depart for Al-Faisaly in Saudi Arabia.

He still has not won the A-League.

2015/16: Dylan Fox 

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Things looked so good for Fox. At the time of his breakthrough in 2015/16, long-standing centre back Ben Sigmund was retiring and there was a genuine feeling that he could be the clubs centre back for the next decade.

But then import Marco Rossi arrived and Fox was back to square one. Even after finally re-winning favour in 2017/18, Mark Rudan came in and Fox could not compete with the pairing of Steven Taylor and Andrew Durante. Injury in March 2019 saw Fox depart and he had a brief stint in Korea with FC Anyang, but is now back in the A-League with the Mariners.

2016/17: Jacob Tratt 

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Tratt’s tale remains a hard pill to swallow for Nix fans. Arriving from the NPL, Tratt easily became the first choice right-back and it looked like his position was locked down. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, Tratt left Wellington at the conclusion of the 2016/17 season and took the next year off from football.

Thankfully Tratt returned to the beautiful game, and despite now playing for the Perth Glory, the Nix faithful still love him.

2017/18: Matt Ridenton

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After spending a few years on the verge of breaking through, Ridenton’s 25 appearances was one of the few positives in a disastrous year for the Phoenix. A dynamic and energetic presence, Ridenton established himself in the first team and earned his award.

Citing stability reasons, Ridenton would depart for Newcastle at the season’s end. However, things did not go well for him there – he has struggled to find consistency or recapture the form that led to his move. He briefly trialled with English club Reading in January, but the move failed to work out.

With his contract running out at the end of this season, the Jets parted way with him and his future looks uncertain.

2018/19: Liberato Cacace: 

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The man who needs no introduction.

At just 19, the youngster is the best full-back in the league. So often will you see his bombing runs down the pitch result in a cross or chance. His ability to beat his man is remarkable and the talent he has for such a young age is crazy. While he initially broke through late in the 2017/18 season, his solid and consistent performances led to him getting the award in 2018/19 and Nix fans are still wondering why Cacace never won Young Player Of The Month.

A bright future in Europe beckons.

Featured image credit: Cameron McIntosh

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Dan Moskovitz
The Football Sack's resident teen kiwi football nut. Loves everything football except defeats.