Five A-League legends that flew under the radar

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Throughout the A-League’s 16 year history, we have had the pleasure of witnessing some exceptional players but who are the quiet achievers that left their mark on Australian football?

While each of these players have had very successful A-League careers, they are rarely mentioned when the A-League’s best players are spoken about. Yet it safely be said that our league would not have been the same without their impact.

5. Paul Ifill 

After an outstanding career in England, talented striker Paul Ifill decided to bring his talents to the Wellington Phoenix in 2009. 

Ifill flew under the radar for a long time in a star-studded Phoenix team that included Ben Sigmund, Chris Greenacre and Andrew Durante but was consistently one of the side’s best forwards. 

He was a two-time top scorer for the Phoenix but never received a Wellington Phoenix Player of the Year Award.

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The Barbadian international made 107 A-League appearances for the Phoenix, scoring 32 goals. Ifill’s best run with the team was during the 2010 A-League Finals Series when he inspired the club to their best finish, a preliminary final loss against eventual champions Sydney FC. 

Capable of playing anywhere across the front three, Ifill made the A-League PFA Team of the Season in 2009/10 and 2011/12.

4. Josh Rose

Considered a legend on the Central Coast, Josh Rose had a formidable A-League career but never got the national recognition some of his fellow Mariners did such as Trent Sainsbury or Mat Ryan. 

While he was an elite performer in the A-League, Ryan and Sainsbury got opportunities overseas but Rose never received one following his return to Australia.

Rose started his A-League career with the now-defunct New Zealand Knights before taking up a contract offer in Romania.

In 2010, the lively left-back returned to the A-League when he joined the Mariners. Rose was instrumental in the Mariners 2011/12 Premiership and helped his side achieve a long-awaited Grand Final victory over the Western Sydney Wanderers in 2013. 

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The Mariners champion left for Melbourne City in 2016 but returned for one more season with the club before calling time on his career.  

Along with his championship success on the Central Coast, Rose finished his impressive career with many individual accolades. 

He made the A-League PFA Team of the Season twice (2010/11, 2011/12), was a two-time A-League All-Star (2013, 2014) and won the Mariners Medal in 2010/11.

3. Jade North 

Arguably the most successful indigenous Australian to play in the A-League, Jade North was a rock in defence throughout his career despite receiving modest recognition.

North started his career as a highly regarded young talent and went on to play for the Newcastle Jets in the A-League’s inaugural season. 

The trusty centre back led the Jets as captain in 2007, steering the team to a historic Grand Final win over their arch-rivals, the Mariners in 2008. 

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Following a brief stint with the Phoenix, North joined Brisbane Roar in 2013 and became a key contributor to their side. He won the 2014 A-League Grand Final with the team and later became the Roar’s vice-captain in 2016. 

As well as playing for the Socceroos over 40 times, North made the A-League PFA Team of the Season twice (2015-16, 2016-17) and was awarded the NAIDOC Australian Sportsperson of the Year in 2016. 

2. Ante Covic

Many football fans consider Eugene Galekovic, Danny Vukovic and Michael Theo to be A-League goalkeeping legends but often forget about superstar journeyman, Ante Covic. 

Galekovic and Theo were both named in the A-League PFA Team of the Decade and although they are deserving, Covic was the man who made Australian football history by becoming the first and only Australian goalkeeper to win an AFC Champions League Final.

To add to his remarkable feat, Covic also received the AFC Champions League Most Valuable Player award in the same tournament. 

Covic played for five clubs during his time in the league, the Jets, Melbourne Victory, the Wanderers, Perth Glory and the Phoenix. 

Across his 172 A-League appearances, Covic reached incredible heights. His first piece of silverware came at the Jets after winning the 2008 A-League Grand Final with the side. 

Despite being an A-League champion, Covic was most successful at the Wanderers after joining their inaugural side for the 2012/13 season. 

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In the club’s first campaign, Covic won the A-League Goalkeeper of the Year Award, made the A-League PFA Team of the Season and helped his side to a maiden Premiership. 

Following a great start at the Wanderers, the 2006 World Cup squad member made Australian football history when his team won the AFC Champions League in 2014.  

Covic’s other accolades in the A-League consist of winning the 2011/12 Melbourne Victory Player of the Year Award and being named an A-League All-Star in 2013. 

1. Matt Smith

Despite playing during the Roar’s glory days alongside stars Besart Berisha, Thomas Broich and Henrique, Matt Smith was always the severely underrated catalyst of his side. 

Since Smith played with a number of all-time greats, his success was sometimes overshadowed and he was surprisingly left out of the A-League.com’s greatest players ever showcase.

The English born defender moved to Australia in 2007 to pursue more opportunities in professional football where he made his first appearance in the A-League as a replacement player for the North Queensland Fury. 

Following 11 games with the side, Smith moved to the Roar and began his rise to A-League glory. 

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At his first season with Brisbane, the steady centre back rallied around his teammates to pull off a remarkable comeback and win the 2011 A-League Grand Final against the Mariners in extra time.  

Smith went on to captain the side after their first championship and led the team to back-to-back titles in 2012. 

Being the exceptional leader he was, Smith would guide his club to a third Grand Final victory in 2014 against the Wanderers. 

Along with his three championships and two premierships at the Roar, Smith appeared multiple times for the Socceroos, made two A-League PFA Team of the Season appearances (2010/11, 2013/14) and became an A-League All-Star in 2014. 

Even though Smith’s storied A-League career came to an end in 2016, the humble legend will always have his name firmly etched in Australian football history. 

Feature image credit: Steve Cristo

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Amir Daou
Bachelor of Sport, Health and Physical Activity and Bachelor of Media and Communications student at Flinders University. Writing intern covering the latest in Adelaide United news and matches. Sport is my passion and I'm excited to learn more about the industry during my time with The Football Sack.