Aussie pair benefit from off season moves - 27/01/2004
The similarity of their career paths is uncanny and if all goes well against New Zealand next week, Luke Wilkshire and Shane Cansdell-Sherriff (pictured right) will be heading to the Athens Olympic Games later this year.
Wilkshire, a product of the Illawarra (Wollongong) region and Cansdell-Sherriff from the Macarthur region in Sydney, are two key players of the Australian Under 23 team currently playing in the Olympic Qualifiers in Sydney.
Both left Australian shores as youngsters, lured to England by Premier League clubs, Wilkshire to Middlesbrough and Cansdell-Sherriff to Leeds United. Having both gone through the hard yards at their respective clubs and on the verge of first team football, both suddenly upped and left, with Wilkshire dropping two divisions to play with Bristol City and Cansdell-Sherriff to the little known Danish 1st Division to play with AGF Aarhus.
For Wilkshire the decision must have been agonising having broken into the first team and managing to play in several Premier League games.
"I needed first team football,” said Wilkshire emphatically. “That’s why I decided to move. I wanted to play week in, week out and that wasn’t going to happen at Middlesbrough.”
For Cansdell-Sherriff his chance of playing first team at the time was proving much harder and so the decision was a little easier, although the reasons were the same.
"Basically I was at Leeds for four years and in the reserves for two and half years and I trained with them a long time waiting to get my chance and it never really came,” he said rather disappointingly.
“My contract was running out and I was offered another year by Leeds, but the opportunity came to go Denmark. What I really wanted was to play first team football and I got taste of it when I went on loan to Rochdale and I loved it.
There is a lot more drive playing first team football compared to playing in reserves, so with the option of first team football in Denmark I jumped at it.”
In Cansdell-Sherriff’s case in particular, the chance of going to the Olympics also played a part in his move.
“Yeah it did play a part,” the left-sided defender admitted. “The word was that if players weren’t playing first team football and someone else in your position was playing first team somewhere that person would have a better chance.
"So I needed to be playing first team and build up towards the Olympics, so that was a big thing for me.”
Both have no regrets over the moves and the decision has paid dividends, as they are both playing regularly and playing very well.
Wilkshire (pictured left) couldn’t be happy with his move to Bristol, saying “It has been really good. They are good club, a big club and they are very ambitious and putting a lot into moving up and getting out of the division (Nationwide Division Two).
"They have a good manager there in Danny Wilson and that was part of the reason why I went there.”
He also has no doubts that it has helped his game.
“It’s definitely different to the Premier League. When I first went there, I found it tough and especially going to away games.
"It wasn’t so bad at home because we had a nice stadium, good pitch and a good crowd. But some of the away games I found a little more difficult because the football wasn’t the best at times against some of the teams we were playing against.
"But for me playing week in, week out is going to help me improve and I feel it is doing the job.”
For many the move by Cansdell-Sherriff seemed a strange choice, but it has served his purpose of playing first team football.
“It’s a very big league, although compared to England it’s not that big. However it’s massive to the Danish people.
"It’s televised a lot, its very professional, it’s a beautiful place and it’s a great league. My club has had an up and down season but towards the end (before winter break) things were on the up. We got a new coach in from a top Swedish club and since he has come in, he has changed around a little bit and things are going up and I think we will do very well.”
Both have played in previous Australian youth teams, Wilkshire with the Under 20 team in Argentina (2001) and Cansdell-Sherriff (pictured right), a member of the Joeys team that played against Brazil in the final of the Under 17 World Championship in New Zealand (1999).
So having to go through the qualification process is nothing new to these two players, although the media scrutiny is something they wouldn’t have faced too often, especially in Australia.
Despite winning games by big margins, this team was written off as the worst ever, and with a well-prepared Fiji champing at the bit to cause an upset, some feared the team would be lucky to get to the play-off. The team however showed its character with a 6-0 thumping of Fiji and thumbed its noses at the media critics.
“It (the press reports) all filtered back and we knew what was written about us and I guess in a way you could say it gave some motivation,” said Wilkshire.
"But at the same time, we were not going out there to prove a point to the media, but to ourselves because at the end of the day, if we do that, we are the ones with the chance to go to the Olympics. What they say is neither here nor there, we’ve still got a job to do and we just go out there and do it,” the midfielder added.
So are there too many expectations by the media and fans to win by big margins when it comes to these games?
“Yeah I think so and it has been evident here,” said Wilkshire. “It doesn’t happen so easy and it is unrealistic to expect us to rock up with 15-0 wins or whatever they expect.
"They (opposition) make it very difficult because they stick 10-men behind the ball and no matter who you are playing against, if they have ten behind the ball they will be difficult to break down. You look at the scorelines we’ve had and they are very reasonable; they’re comfortable wins. Some people say we should have beaten them by more and maybe we should have. Maybe we missed a few chances but at the end of the day we won and that is all that matters.”
Wilkshire is in no doubt that the team has improved as the tournament has gone on and that augurs well for the two matches against New Zealand.
“It was always going to take for us as we only came into camp in early January. As we go on and play more together and the understanding is going to get better, then obviously we are going to improve.
"That’s what seems to have happened. The game yesterday (Fiji) was a great example and you say compare that game to the first game against Samoa and we played much better.”
So what are they are expecting against New Zealand on Monday?
“The Kiwi’s will be a good side,” said Cansdell-Sherriff. “The last few years they have had decent sides as well, but if we go out there like we did last night, I don’t think they will trouble us.
"We have got a great team, the boys work really well together, we work hard and everyone wants it and that’s the best thing, the spirit is great in the team. We are going to work hard in these next few days as we are looking further down the tunnel at the Olympic Games and that’s what we really want.
Wilkshire adds, “You know one thing for sure is that they will work there back sides off. They will make it difficult and will be desperate to beat us.
"They always are and the rivalry is there and they are going to want to cause an upset just like Fiji wanted to last night. The last thing we want is to have them going to the Olympics instead of us. But I don’t think it would matter who we played, we are two games away from going to the Olympics, we are going to be fired up for it.”
So with everything on the line against New Zealand both are in no doubt about what getting to the Olympics would mean to them.
“It’s a great opportunity and will be a great experience,” says Wilkshire. “You hear about it; it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and the chance is not going to come along to any of us in the squad after this, so it is not something I want to miss out on.”
As for Cansdell-Sherriff, “It would be massive. I have been thinking about it for a long time and as soon as we started playing these games in Europe, the thought of going to the Olympics has blow me away. So I have been building towards these games and moving to Denmark was part of it, so it would be fantastic to go the Olympics and representing my country.”
For these two who have risked plenty in the past year, a date next August in Athens would be just reward.
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