OFC: As far as football in the Pacific is concerned, Scott Gannon has seen his fair share of airport lounges.
The Lupe Ole Soaga midfielder was brought into the side this year to offer some experience to the Samoan champions as they embarked on their first OFC Champions League campaign.
And his impact was near instantaneous as the 27-year-old scored eight minutes into the side’s debut on Saturday afternoon against Pirae, the focal point of a performance which helped push the Samoan champions to a surprise 3-3 draw against the Tahiti outfit.
For a youthful and inexperienced Lupe, who qualified for the tournament in Fiji via last October’s preliminary tournament in Apia, Gannon was the ideal candidate; the Australian’s CV includes clubs in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Fiji.
This season is Gannon’s third Champions League campaign following stints with Ba (Fiji) and Hekari (PNG) in 2013 and 2014 and one in which he will take more of a leadership role than he has in the past.
“The journey started for me back in 2011 with Amicale, then I had a couple of seasons in the national league in New Zealand with Hawke’s Bay then I received an invitation to play with Ba in 2013. Last year with Hekari was a nice experience,” he reflects. “It’s been good for me to experience different teams in the Pacific and the flavour of football they offer.”
He began the tournament as one of just three Lupe players in the travelling 22 to boast previous Champions League appearances.
“Obviously it’s good to be here again for the third time and hopefully looking to help this Samoan side out and see if I can offer some experience. An invitation came this year to join Lupe and I am excited to be here and help out the boys as much as I can.”
His assistance was notable enough in game one; pulling the strings from midfield to allow strikers Luki Gosche and Silao Malo to contribute up front.
His curling, right-footed free-kick into the top corner wasn’t half bad either.
Player-coach Paul Ualesi welcomes the experience Gannon brings to the table. “We really appreciate Scott, he’s made a really big difference to our play,” he said. “He’s one of our most important players in the midfield, playing inside with Lionel Taylor. It’s a good experience from the boys, to learn from Scott”.
Lupe were drawn in a tough pool for their maiden tournament; coming up against two of last season’s semi-finalists in Ba and Pirae and a relatively unknown New Caledonian side in FC Gaitcha.
But they surprised everyone with Saturday’s draw and face a real test of their merit on Tuesday afternoon against the hosts and one of Gannon’s former clubs, Ba FC.
Gannon has plenty of experience playing with – and against – other teams from around the continent and he identifies one main key to success: coaching.
“The style is very similar in lot of the island nations, it comes down to the coaching they get early on in their football careers, the tactical side of things,” he says. “They’re all very fast, strong and physical players. Some of the skill levels the players have is amazing.”
In their pool, Lupe will face a trio of well-drilled sides with strong coaching structures and Gannon warns that the round-robin will be tough, start to finish.
“They are three very good sides. Ba are one of my old sides and I know the boys very well. They’re going to be physical and obviously, playing in front of a home crowd, they’ll be up for it.
”You’re always going to get a lot of flare and skill and ability and good coaching as well [from Pirae and Gaitcha]. It’s just going to be a matter of doing the best that we can do and try and get something out of each and every game.”
He admits that his side’s main objective for the 2015 tournament is to gain experience for the future but says that the side have no intentions of being also-rans at Govind Park.
“You don’t play football to lose,” he says. “You’ve got to go into the games with the mindset that you’re going to win each and every game you play in.
“Whether that’s going to be the case I’m not too sure. I think the main goal is to gain the experience and go one better next year and try and progress as the boys develop in their footballing careers.”
Lupe Ole Soaga’s second game of the tournament against Ba kicks off at 4:30pm on Tuesday April 14.