He’s the forgotten man of New Zealand football but Hamilton-born Adam Thomas is landing rave reviews for courage and determination as he makes a career comeback on the other side of the world.
Thomas (28), who lost six years of his career through injury, has won plaudits as a recently-signed centre back for League of Ireland club Shelbourne.
After making his debut — his first game for seven months — Shelbourne manager Damien Duff said:
“He was the best player on the park but what he has done, desire-wise, to come to the other side of the world to play football . . . ”
Duff, a former English Premier League player with 100 caps for the Republic of Ireland, says he ran into Thomas at a camp being run by the Irish Professional Footballers’ Association. The camp was for out-of-contract players to show what they could do.
“He decided four months ago he wanted to come and play football; we came across him at the PFAI trial course and he has been amazing.”
Of his new manager, Thomas told the Irish Sun’s Neil O’Riordan: “I was starstruck but he’s a down-to-earth humble guy who is intense and wants everything done to a high standard.”
Ten years ago, he was marking Salah and Neymar
The tall defender’s second stab at a pro career looks promising — but where did it go off the rails?
Ten years ago, Thomas was at the Olympic Games with the OlyWhites, marking the likes of Mohamed Salah (Egypt) and Neymar (Brazil).
He had played through the national age groups, representing New Zealand at U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels.
In the past decade, he had played regional and national league football for clubs in Auckland, Wellington and the Waikato. He played in a Chatham Cup final for Western Suburbs.
Main photo: Thomas anchoring the defence for Eastern Suburbs. Photo: Phototek.
Injuries derailed his career. A meniscus tear in his knee, hip surgery and two ankle operations.
With the help of specialists, and learning suitable mobility and stretching exercises, Thomas has made a gradual comeback.
He left New Zealand for Australian club Oakleigh Cannons and decided to chase football opportunities in Europe and Sweden.
Thomas and his wife Laura landed in Ireland late last year with little money left.
“That was one of the tougher parts and we were very grateful for friends helping out.”
Now, he’s eager to make the most of what’s left of his career and he believes he’s capable of playing well into his 30s.
‘If I do well here, who knows?’
Thomas is one of only four players from the 2012 OlyWhites to not earn a senior cap.
Would he still want to get a chance with the All Whites?
“I would love to, it’s been a dream since I was a kid,” he told interviewer O’Riordan.
“But my sole focus has to be with Shelbourne and if I do well here, who knows?”
Adam Thomas’ football journey
New Zealand: Melville United > Central United > Auckland City > Waikato FC > Team Wellington > Western Suburbs > Eastern Suburbs
Australia: Oakleigh Cannons
National age group teams
New Zealand U-17 – 10 appearances; New Zealand U-20 – 8 appearances, 1 goal; New Zealand U-23 – 11 appearances, 1 goal.
New Zealanders sign for League of Ireland clubs
While Thomas has signed for Shelbourne, two All Whites have joined rivals Sligo Rovers this season.
Defender Nando Pinjaker (22), who is playing for New Zealand at the Oceania FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Qatar, and forward Max Mata (21), signed with Rovers after playing together in Switzerland.
They continue a growing list of accomplished New Zealanders to have played for League of Ireland clubs. The list includes:
Jason Batty – Bohemians
Che Bunce – Drogheda United
Sean Byrne – St Patrick’s Athletic, Dundalk
Henry Cameron – Limerick
Billy de Graaf – Shelbourne
Raf de Gregorio – Bohemians
Ryan De Vries – Sligo Rovers
Dean Dodds – Bohemians
Kevin Fallon – Sligo Rovers
Lee Jones – Drogheda United
Max Mata – Sligo Rovers
Heremaia Ngata – Bohemians
Nando Pijnaker – Sligo Rovers
Adam Thomas – Shelbourne
Gavin Wilkinson – Kilkenny City
Darren Young – Limerick, Waterford United, Athlone Town, Mervue United