They are the grizzled veterans, two men with reputations as hardworking S-League professionals and their efforts are finally recognised after a glorious football season that ended in silverware and, now, individual honours.
Warriors FC goalkeeper Hassan Sunny (S-League champion) and Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic (RHB Singapore Cup winner) have enjoyed the thrill of hoisting trophies aloft over the past two weeks but, yesterday, they were named Player and Coach of the Year respectively at the league's awards night.
For Hassan, 30, who has produced heroics in goal on numerous occasions as the Warriors claimed a historic ninth league crown, it was vindication for his perseverance. The Singapore international also becomes the first goalkeeper to win the honour since its inauguration in 1996.
"I was out for two years and a lot of people, former players and coaches told me I should start looking for other options and give up football," said the gloved one, who was out of action from 2011 to 2013 after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus twice in his right knee.
But his persistence and those long and lonely hours spent alone training in the gym paid off. "I honestly didn't think I could win as I was up against strikers who scored a lot of goals but I'm thankful that the selectors have recognised all my hard work," he said.
Warriors coach Alex Weaver also paid tribute to his defensive rock, saying: "He's been such a professional and deserves this after all his injuries.
"He's made a huge contribution and is an important part of what has been a successful team."
Surprise was also written all across the face of Balestier coach Kraljevic, who had two playing stints in the 1990s for the Tigers before taking his place in the dug-out for his first S-League coaching job.
"This is a shock for me," said the 49-year-old permanent resident from Croatia who guided Balestier to their first Singapore Cup.
"After we won the Cup on Friday night, I thought that was it, this was a great year. To win this award is just amazing.
"But it's not for me. Everything I've done is thanks to my team, my staff, the club.
"They have given me a lot of support and I couldn't have won this without my club."
The Young Player of the Year gong went to the Warriors' Argentinian striker Nicolas Velez, whose 21 goals played a large part in securing his club their first league title since 2009.
The two-hour ceremony, at ITE College East, also witnessed an emotional tribute led by former Football Association of Singapore president Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee to 44-year-old evergreen striker Aleksandar Duric, the most decorated player and highest scorer who retired after 15 years in the top flight.
This article was first published on November 10, 2014.
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