Leading the New Zealand U-17 squad to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in January 2015 was a major learning experience for Jack-Henry Sinclair.
His side were taken to the wire during the group stage by New Caledonia just managing to pip them with a 5-4 victory to top the group. They came through the semi-final against Vanuatu relatively unscathed before having to face an impressive Tahitian side in the final.
With the two teams unable to be separated after 90 minutes it came down to a penalty shoot-out in which Sinclair’s side triumphed.
It was an unforgettable introduction to football in Oceania for Sinclair and Co. and an experience that the Wellington Phoenix recruit has been able to draw on as New Zealand’s U-20 side aims to add another regional title to mantle at the OFC U-20 Championship.
“I think it’s just that we’ve got to work hard, as we did in that final,” Sinclair said of what the team needs to do in their semi-final tomorrow.
“Just work hard, you never know what’s going to happen so you’ve just got to be ready for everything.”
Having gone through the anxiety of a shootout before, it’s not an experience Sinclair is keen to repeat here in Vanuatu.
“Hopefully it won’t go to penalties here. I hope we’ll be able to win it in normal time.”
Like his teammates Sarpreet Singh and Logan Rogerson, Sinclair is enveloped in the elite environment offered by New Zealand’s only professional club.
And it’s something that is helping him grow immensely as a player, as is being in New Zealand Football’s national team set-up.
“I think both environments are really profesional,” he said.
“With the Phoenix you get in there and get the job done, and it’s the same here. It’s all high tempo and they expect the highest from you at all times.”
A proven leader, Sinclair doesn’t have the responsibility of wearing the captain’s armband this time around but that’s not something he’s dwelling on.
In fact, it’s an opportunity to focus on what he can learn from his teammates.
“It’s really good I haven’t actually played with them before seeing as they’ve been in the 20s and are a year older,” Sinclair said of Moses Dyer and Clayton Lewis, the two remaining members of the U-20 class of 2015.
“They’re great players and great leaders as well. On and off the field they’re great guys.”
Sinclair is clearly relishing every opportunity afforded to him and in particular, the chance to come to a new environment.
“Santo is a beautiful place, the people are amazing coming out to support us,” he said.
He’s also been enjoying the experience of different styles and approaches to football that come with being part of the Oceania Confederation.
“It’s always fun playing the Solomon Islands,” he said of New Zealand’s last group opponents and the side which prevented their clean sweep of Group B.
“They’re really skilful guys so you’ve got to be on your toes all of the time.
“It’s enjoyable you know, it’s a beautiful sport football.”
Sinclair’s shot at qualifying for his second FIFA tournament comes tomorrow when New Zealand play New Caledonia in the first semi-final of the OFC U-20 Championship in Luganville, Santo.