Gulley gets his big break at Phoenix

Wellington Phoenix have signed defender Justin Gulley to a one-year deal as the investment in young New Zealanders continues to pay dividends.

Gulley, 22, was part of the first intake in the club’s academy in 2012, then known as the Wellington Phoenix School of Excellence.

The years since have been both exciting and frustrating for the hard-tackling speedster who has been beset by niggling injuries.

“There were times when I was doing my rehab running round the pitch and having to watch the other young guys training with the first team,” Gulley said.

“That was frustrating but overall the past three-and-a-bit years have been an awesome experience.

“When I began playing I never imagined that Wellington, or New Zealand, would one day have a pathway for youngsters to become professional footballers.”

Gulley was quick to point out the part coach Ernie Merrick and his staff played in helping him achieve his dream.

“Ernie has encouraged me throughout and that played a big part in helping me keep going when rehab was a real grind,” he said.

“I owe a lot to the staff, especially our physio Rob Lee, because without them I wouldn’t have got this far.

“Now I have to knuckle down and keep working hard to try and break into the first team.”

Gulley gained Merrick’s attention soon after the coach arrived in Wellington.

“He caught my eye early on when he was in the New Zealand Under-20 team at the World Cup in Turkey,” Merrick said.

“Had Justin not been suffering from osteitis pubis he would have been signed much earlier.

“Now that he is fully fit it was an easy decision to sign him.

“He is very quick, very good technically and a good tackler and will provide the cover we need on the right side of defence.”