KOTA KINABALU: Sabah coach and manager Gary Phillips is on cloud nine after successfully guiding his side to Super League promotion barely seven months into the job.
Gary has stunned many and proved his critics wrong as he turned a no-hoper side into title contenders.
Sabah was so close to winning their first silverware in more than a decade, but only to be undone by their own fault, and Gary knows that well.
But he is not about to complain, as what they have achieved now has given him the satisfaction and motivation to work harder in trying to form a side that could help Sabah make it into the AFC League in the next three or four years.
He even described their season as being a remarkable one.
Even if they failed to qualify for the Super League, Gary still insisted that it will still be a good season considering the state of their preparations.
And now the Aussie wants to keep dreaming and bring more success to Sabah.
But he cannot do it alone, as he also wants the players to have a similar dream and have their own mission or vision.
Gary said he was so happy and thrilled for the team, the players and the management.
And that he hardly had any sleep the night they won the battle against KL Pos Malaysia FC and soon afterwards learnt that the victory has helped them gain Super League promotion following Selangor PKNS’ 1-2 defeat to Harimau Muda.
“I think I only slept for two hours … trying to absorb things as it happened in a short period. The last few weeks have been so intense for us especially after the defeat to USM FC.
“But the players showed a lot of character despite the setback against USM FC. They fought their hearts out until the end.
“It is fortunate that Harimau Muda won against Selangor PKNS, but then again, in football, you need to win to achieve your goals.
“On the night, we did enough to win although it has not been the best game we can play.
“But to win a match, it is not necessarily for you to play pretty or attractive football. Even Barcelona or Manchester United cannot do it. In our case, we just play to win the game and do what we have to do, and I am proud for the players because they have done their best to win the game.
“Even though they (KL Pos Malaysia) did not have the best players, but they are fighters and make it hard for you.
But despite their success, Gary knows well that there is still a lot of hard work to do to improve the team.
“We certainly need to get our standard better. Although it has been magnificent, but there is a lot of work to do.
“The game against KL Pos Malaysia gave me a clear message that the team needs improving because we could not beat them comfortably.
Gary also paid tribute to Zainizam Marjan for his influential role as well as skipper Md Reithuddin Embran, who has been excellent at the team’s backline and not forgetting keeper Azizon Abdul Kadir, who was outstanding throughout the night.
He also thanked his assistant Justin Ganai and his other coaching staff such as Jasri, Burhan and the team physiotherapist in Matlan Basir as well as Sulaiman Arman for support.
Gary also thanked the Sabah FA with Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Haji Aman at the helm for what they have done to the team.
He said without sound management, it would be hard for the team to do well.
“Alijus, Shahriman and KH Tan have been great. They have been behind the team all this while. Shahriman has been magnificent to the players, and this only augurs well for the team.
He also thanks the FA for giving him the chance to be part of the squad.
He then pledged his future to Sabah, saying: “I will be here as long as they need me”.
Next on Gary’s agenda is the Malaysia Cup, but before they start their preparations for the country’s most prestigious and oldest competition, he is giving his charges a two-week break and would resume their training on August 9.