Goalkeepers are well-known for their idiosyncrasies – and Napier City Rovers shot-stopper Oscar Mason is no different. The New Zealand age-group goalie talked to Neil Reid
The last thing Napier City Rovers players – and fans – want to see from Oscar Mason during the National League is the goalkeeper's smile.
The 18-year-old last month was a member of the victorious New Zealand age-grade team which won the Oceania Football Confederation's (OFC) qualifying tournament for next year's Under-20 World Cup.
And last weekend he proved to be a hero for Napier City Rovers, pulling off a brilliant penalty save during his side's entertaining 1-1 draw away to Christchurch United.
As his club prepares for Saturday's round three National League clash against Miramar Rangers at Bluewater Stadium, the highly-rated goalkeeper opened up about his match day "rituals"; which include smiling after making a mistake – a gesture that he says helps clear his mind of negative thoughts.
"You make mistakes, and if you let it get you down you will make two or three mistakes," Mason said.
"You have to have a way of dealing with that; every keeper makes mistakes.
"I smile . . . if I have a mozza I will smile. It probably looks stupid, but it forces your brain to be happy and move on. It seems to work, and hopefully, I don't have to need it too often."
Mason is rated amongst the most talented upcoming goalkeepers in the country and was one of three goalies in the New Zealand side which recently won the Oceania Football Confederation's Under-19 Championship in Tahiti.
It hasn't just been shot-stopping skills that the teen has worked on during his journey to becoming Napier City Rovers' first-choice goalie and proudly wearing the silver fern.
Doing all he can to handle the mental side of his chosen position – which he says is "the biggest part of goalkeeping" - is a constant work-on.
"In my head, I have to have everything ticked off leading up in the week [to a game]," Mason said.
"When I am walking out from the tunnel for the game I need to know in my head that I have done A, B, C and I am ready."
If he doesn't train well late in the week, it means either extra work in his backyard or returning to Bluewater Stadium with his father to work on some technical aspects of his role.
"If I don't feel like I have done everything, then I don't feel like I am going into a game prepared."
On game day he holds off putting on his game-day shorts and socks until shortly before kick-off.
"It breaks it [the build-up] up a little bit," he said.
Other game-day rituals include ensuring he has two water bottles next to his goal, touching the crossbar and doing a jump when the referee blows his whistle to begin the game.
Mason made his senior first-team debut for Napier City Rovers in 2020 Central League action aged just 15, and three years on is just six matches away from notching up his 50th appearance.
He then debuted for Hawke's Bay United in the previous format of the National League at age 16.
His status within Napier City Rovers is such that if he remains injury free he will clock up his 50th first-team game for the team later this season, at the age of 18.
Given his ability, the fact he was – and still is – so young saw him quickly earn the respect of his older teammates.
"And as I have played more, started to perform better, the respect has gotten greater," he said.
"I am not seen as a kid. I am not treated like a kid . . . I am treated like a normal player which is good. I guess some people would maybe treat me like a kid . . . but if I am playing men's football then why should I be treated like a kid?"
Mason made one appearance for New Zealand in the OFC Under-19 tournament, keeping a clean sheet in the 9-0 win over American Samoa.
Making the final – which they went on to win 3-0 over Fiji - saw New Zealand secure a spot in next year's Under-20 World Cup in Indonesia.
"Any kid's dream should be to play for your country and when I did, it was a dream come true," Mason said.
What made the debut even more special was that his parents had travelled to Tahiti for the group stage of the tournament in the hope they would see their son wear the silver fern.
"It was pretty special playing [in front of them]. Mum said she had a tear in her eye when I walked out for the national anthem," he said.
The goal now was to cement a spot as one of New Zealand's top three under-20 keepers and get to Indonesia next year.
That will hopefully be aided by the exposure he will get in the televised National League for Napier City Rovers.
The side goes into round three action on Saturday in fourth spot on the points table – behind the league's three Auckland clubs – with a win and a draw.
Mason was impressive in both games, culminating in his penalty save.
"Performing well is good for me now with all eyes on me [with greater coverage]," he said.
"I guess there is pressure. The big thing for me when we were overseas [with the under-19 team] was 'pressure is a privilege' . . . which was true. It is good to perform well [when the pressure is on].
"Being in the National League is pretty good. To get through and make National League with Rovers is pretty special. I have played all my senior football here."
In his final year of study at Napier Boys' High School, Mason has previously played for the New Zealand Secondary Schools team and was also part of the New Zealand Under-17 training squad; a camp which was ultimately cancelled during the Covid-19 outbreak.
As well as having high hopes for Napier City Rovers in continuing to impress in the National League, he also has goals away from his home province in years to come.
"I want to be a professional footballer," he said.
"First, I want to go to the Under-20 World Cup next year. I have had my first taste of international football and I want to have a lot more of it . . . I want to play for the All Whites.
"The dream is to be a professional footballer. It is hard in New Zealand, you have got to get overseas . . . so I want to get over to Europe and give it a nudge and see what happens.
"I don't want to rush into it too early and then think, 'I have done that too quickly. [But] I don't want to be thinking when I am 40, 'S***, I should have given it a go', or have any regrets."