One of the untold stories from last season is how Orlando Pirates averted a crisis in the goalkeeping department.
At one point in the critical final stretch of the season, Pirates did not have a goalkeeper coach and had two senior stoppers – Richard Ofori and Siyabonga Mphontshane – sidelined by injury.
Wayne Sandilands was the only available senior keeper, with rookie Elson Sithole as the team’s back-up goalie. Kopano Thuntsane has now been promoted from the club’s junior ranks.
Goalkeeper coach Jyri Nieminen left the club in December after spending a year with the Buccaneers. It was reported that Sandilands doubled up as a player and head of the goalkeeping department.
Ofori, then the first-choice keeper, suffered a groin injury during Pirates’ CAF Confederation Cup group A match against ES Sétif of Algeria. The 27-year-old said the team was unlucky to suffer numerous injury setbacks last season.
“I don’t want to focus too much on last season because it is behind us now. It was a challenge that we managed to overcome as a club,” Ofori told City Press on the sidelines of the club’s media event in Rustenburg in North West this week.
“I think we were just unlucky last season that we had so many injuries. It does not happen a lot that two senior goalkeepers get injured at the same time. But we have a good goalkeeping department and Wayne [Sandilands] was there to step up.
“Our young keepers Elson and Kopano are also improving every day and learning.”
Pirates were not only hampered in the goalkeeper department, but their two main strikers, Tshegofatso Mabasa and Zakhele Lepasa, were also sidelined by injuries for most of the campaign.
Ofori missed the rest of the season following that injury against ES Sétif, a game played in his home country of Ghana.
“I am getting better with the help of the medical team and the management of the club. This was the first time in my career I had to go for surgery. I am now ahead of schedule in terms of the injury. I was expected back later, but now I have recovered,” he said.
The Ghana international will make his return in the Carling Black Label Cup this afternoon after Pirates fans voted him into the starting line-up.
The Sea Robbers will have learnt that it is not about how you start, but rather how you finish a campaign. They started last season with a bang, winning the MTN8 in December, but were never a threat to Mamelodi Sundowns’ title run.
Pirates slipped up at a crucial stage of the season to finish third in the DStv Premiership. In cup competitions, Bucs were knocked out in the quarterfinals of both the Nedbank Cup and CAF Confederation Cup.
“If you remember, last season the preseason was very short and we had a lot of new players in the squad. It is never easy when a team is going through a rebuilding phase,” Ofori pointed out.
“We had a good start to the season after winning the MTN8. It had been a long time since the club had won a trophy. We tried to push harder to win more trophies, but it was not meant to be.”
In the build-up to the new season, the Pirates management rang in the changes in both the squad and the technical team.
The club has signed Goodman Mosele from Baroka, Monnapule Saleng from Free State Stars, and Bandile Shandu and Kwanda Mngonyama from Maritzburg United.
Saleng has since been sent out on loan to Swallows.
The Bucs technical team has also been beefed up with former Golden Arrows head coach Mandla Ncikazi joining as Josef Zinnbauer’s second assistant.
Sjoerd Woudenberg is the new keeper coach and the Dutchman has been part of the team’s preseason camp.
“We have been working hard with the new goalkeeper coach. He has been making sure that we are sharp for the upcoming season.
“We’ve got healthy competition in the department, which is good for the team overall,” Ofori said.