OFC: Beating defending champions Solomon Warriors to the domestic S-League title is another task to tick off a long list of achievements for former Solomon Islands international Commins Menapi.
One of his first major coaching roles was with the Solomon Islands U-20 side which competed in the 2014 OFC U-20 Championship, however the S-League title is his first piece of silverware and a victory Menapi is savouring.
“The team is very humbled,” the Western United coach said.
“Our victory in the domestic league comes from the hard work and determination of our players, coaching staff and the management.”
While the hard yards had to be applied, Menapi was always confident his team could wrestle the title from the defending champions.
“From the beginning of the league we knew that we were going to qualify for the Champions League,” Menapi said.
“We have studied how Solomon Warriors behave on and off the field so we put in all efforts to dismantle their bond.
“Our emotions for winning against them were high. They beat us in the first round, but we never gave up on our goal to qualify. We beat them in the second round and we definitely knew we would be going to Fiji.”
The OFC Champions League, Oceania’s premier club competition, is a tournament Menapi knows all too well having played 17 matches himself during a career that saw him represent New Zealand’s Waitakere United and Solomon Islands clubs Makuru and Marist.
During the 2007 edition it was Menapi’s away goal against Ba FC of Fiji which proved crucial as Waitakere United qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. Menapi was still in the squad when they successfully defended that title a year later to earn their second consecutive trip to the Club World Cup.
Now, Menapi’s experience of Oceania’s highest level of club football is set to aid Western United’s chase for regional glory in Fiji come April.
“It’s very exciting to be guiding Western United as they take part in their first OFC Champions League campaign,” Menapi said.
“It’s the first time since I took up coaching as my new career after leaving international football. The prospect of making it there as a coach with Western United is where the club wants to be, so we worked towards it.”
Heavy recruitment for the S-League saw some of the region’s top talents join Western United including Jack Wetney, Joses Nawo, Nelson Sale and Benjamin Totori – and Menapi says there is more to come.
“Our recruiting for the domestic league shows our seriousness to win,” he explains.
“For the next stage we have recruited three players so far. Two from Europe and one from Italy – but this recruitment doesn’t guarantee their spot in the team.
“The final list is due on 23 March 2015. We have 33 players in training but only 23 will be selected. Everyone has to work hard to earn a place in the final squad for the Champions League.”
It will be a baptism of fire for Menapi’s charges as they find themselves grouped with 2014 champions Auckland City FC, 2014 runners-up Amicale FC of Vanuatu and Fiji champions Suva FA.
And despite the obvious step up a level, Menapi won’t change his approach.
“Facing highly regarded opponents, it’s not intimidating at all. We have our game plans and strategy for winning,” he says.
“Our preparations are intact – I have my coaching staff on top of everything ensuring we have full force and a well prepared team tactically, physically and mentally.”
For anyone who doubts that approach, the Western United coach has one message.
“We are not going to the Champions League to participate. We are going to compete, therefore the draw is not a threat at all, even if it is named the pool of death.”
Western United will open their 2015 OFC Champions League campaign against Vanuatu’s Amicale FC on 11 April at 7pm.