From third-rate to first choice

From third-rate to first choice
The New Paper Dollah Kassim award nominees (left to right) Muhelmy Suhaimi, Nasrul Taib, Lionel Tan, Nonis Zephen Sean Anthony, Danish Irfan Azman and Rusyaidi Salime.

Two years ago, as a player in the National Football Academy (NFA) Under-14 team, he waited patiently for his opportunity in the prestigious Lion City Cup.

In the end, Nonis Zephen-Sean Anthony tasted only 11 minutes of action, after coming on as a substitute in the team's last match against the Porto U-15s.

The lanky goalkeeper, endured more frustration the following year, when he failed to even make the NFA U-15 squad for the same tournament.

But, instead of giving up, Zephen-Sean resolved to work even harder on his game. His determination has paid off.

This year, the 1.88m-tall Eurasian established himself as the first-choice custodian in the NFA U-16 team.

Zephen-Sean admitted, though, that he thought about quitting during those two testing years as a bench-warmer.

"It was a very disappointing time for me, as I trained hard and showed commitment but did not play," the 16-year-old Assumption English School student told The New Paper.

"But my goalkeeper coach then, Rosmadi (Haron), and Donald (Wan, team assistant coach) kept encouraging me to keep going, so I did."

This year, he played in about three quarters of the team's 21 games as they finished second in the COE U-18 league.

He also shone in a friendly against the U-19 team of Malaysian giants Johor Darul Ta'zim in April, a match the Cubs lost 0-1.

NFA U-16 coach V Selvaraj was one of those who was highly impressed by Zephen-Sean that day.

The former coach of S.League giants Warriors FC said: "A small group of hostile Malaysian fans behind Zephen-Sean's goal tried to intimidate him, but he played with confidence and we never felt threatened or like we were going to concede.

"He plucked all the high balls out of the air confidently and commanded his backline."

Selvaraj, a former international striker, also likes his goalkeeper's attitude.

He said: "Zephen has always been a responsible player on and off the field.

"Although he was the third-choice last year, he did not give up. He showed strong mental strength and worked very hard in training to fight for his place.

"Rather than repay my faith in him, I feel he repaid the faith he had in himself.

"All our three goalkeepers lacked confidence at the start of the year, but Zephen came out tops because he believed in himself."

Not bad for someone who picked up football only at the age of 11, having mostly played basketball before that.

But why play as a goalkeeper, one of the least-appreciated positions in football?

"Why not? It seemed fun to me back then," said Zephen-Sean. "I've thought about playing as a striker, and coach Selva allowed me to play as one in training. But I've realised it's not for me.

"People say goalkeepers are crazy, and I agree with the statement.

"After all, who wants to stand there and do nothing all game but, when a goal goes in, you get blamed?

"But it's okay for me. As long as I've tried my best."

Zephen-Sean is setting his sights higher.

He dreams of playing in Europe one day, but he is keeping his feet on the ground.

He wants to work towards his goal one step at a time.

He said: "First, I want to represent the senior national team. That's my main ambition for now."


This article was first published on Nov 29, 2014.
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