RENDEZVOUS WITH: SEAN XERRI DE CARO
Sean is 19 and a Neptunes and National U-20 Team water polo player who was voted 2014’s BOV First Division player of the year. SWAG discusses the ups and downs faced by a talented, young water polo player trying to break into the first team at a club with a distinguished history.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your playing career.
Well, this year I decided to go on what is called a ‘shared athlete’ loan with Marsaxlokk water polo club and I played in the first division. The reason for this move was that playing for such a prestigious club as Neptunes, my actual playing time and game experience was quite poor since I had to compete with players of a very high standard to play in the first team.
My young age permitted me to play in a separate league (any team in first division), my choice being Marsaxlokk, likewise playing for my Under-20 squad with Neptunes. In this way I was able to keep on playing for my original club, Neptunes, and at the same time gain some priceless game experience with a first division team.
What position do you normally play in?
I am an all-round player, able to play in most positions I am assigned to by my coaches. The only position I am unable to play in is that of centre-forward, also known as the ‘hole position’. The reason is that my body stature and, presumably, my technique, does not fit that job.
What other jobs do you do apart from your sport?
I am currently studying for my Bachelor of Laws Degree (LLB) at the University of Malta. I am in my second year, with a total of six years left before I finish my course.
What is your earliest sporting memory?
That takes me back to when I first joined the water polo nursery down at Neptunes. Around the same period I also remember the first time I attended swimming lessons that had also been held at the Neptunes club roughly nine years ago. I must admit that I never enjoyed the swimming sessions. On the other hand, the water polo lessons I attended made me love the sport more and more.
What inspired you to take it up?
From a very young age, I always remember having family members who were pretty enthusiastic about water polo and swimming. My grandparents were and still are big supporters of Neptunes WPSC and the sport in general. My father, who only stopped playing water polo a couple of years ago due to other commitments, definitely had an active role in creating my love for the sport. I used to watch many water polo matches with my grandparents, mainly to support my father. I remember dreaming that I was playing, just like my father and many other great players while watching from the stands.
When did you realise you would become a semi-professional?
I noticed that my career was taking a semi-professional path from all those long hours I spent at the pool, both summer and winter, training to improve and hopefully getting chosen to form part of the older age groups, including the senior squad and possibly the National Team. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I would say, I haven't had the opportunity yet to train water polo full-time. In Malta it is hard, if not impossible, to play water polo professionally and that is why some talented Maltese players, whom I have the privilege of training with in summer, go abroad and train full-time with foreign clubs. All in all, I would say that no, I don’t think that I will ever make a living out of water polo and that is why I think it is essential to strike a good balance between training and studying.
How much training do require to maintain the level you’re at?
A lot! You need to be a good swimmer and also need to be physically strong to withstand the strength of other players constantly pushing, pulling and ducking you. I would say that swimming sessions every day is essential, with gym sessions three times a week to build a good, strong physique. And, of course, you must maintain a healthy diet.
What have you had to give up or minimise to be successful?
Going out with friends, late night parties and drinking alcohol, especially the night before a game. I’m not one that consumes a lot of alcohol on a daily basis. On the other hand, just like any other young person, I do enjoy those nights were I can go out and have a good time with my friends. Certain habits must be restricted because of my sport, especially in summer. Your time-management must be good and planning around your training routine is a must and that is simply what I do. It works pretty well, so I can’t complain.
What event do you enjoy participating in most?
The event I enjoyed playing in the most was, by far, the 2014 season, where, thanks to my coach Ian Azzopardi, I played a prominent role for my temporary club, Marsaxlokk. Not only did I play most of the games, but I was always in the starting line-up and scored a considerable amount of goals. I also had the privilege of playing alongside two great foreign players, both Hungarian, namely Otto Frick – who won the league with Sliema ASC in 2009 – and Fulop Bence, who is still very young and is likely to get chosen for the Hungarian National Team next year.
This year I played against and marked very strong and popular players such as Ivan Vuksanovic, who played for Torino in Italy and the Spaniard Sergi Moora. This was an one of best opportunities for me to improve and definitely an experience I will never forget. My team-mates and I down at Marsaxlokk ended up runners up, only one point beneath the Champions. This was an exceptional feeling for me despite us not winning. I must also mention the great team performance of the Neptunes Under-20 squad. We finished runners-up with a considerably young squad. All in all, the year 2014 was very fruitful in my water polo career.
What do you feel are your proudest sporting achievements so far?
In water polo, like in every other team sport, you win together and you lose together. By far my proudest sporting moments as a player forming part of a larger squad were the victories in 2011 (under-17 Champions) and in 2013, when I won my first my first league with the senior Neptunes team. Despite the fact that I was the youngest, and didn’t gain a lot of game experience, it was still a proud and important milestone as I trained with one of the finest players in Malta together with two exceptional foreigners who taught me some fundamental skills.
On an individual level, playing with Marsaxlokk has enabled me to experience the proud moment of winning the ‘BOV Player of the Month’ award in July and also winning the ‘BOV Player of the Year’ award. These awards do not make me the best player of my age by far, but they give me the courage to train harder, improve and give my club what it deserves.
What do you think was your best victory?
There is one superb victory which I will never forget. This happened on Monday 11 August, during an Under-20s Sliema vs Neptunes game with all its traditional rivalry, played at Sliema pitch. As any water polo enthusiast will know, Neptunes and Sliema (two big teams in Maltese waterpolo history) often end up in hot games against each other, and this was definitely one of them.
Not only were we losing by two goals in the third session, but we also had our coach expelled from the game and one of our players was chucked out for brutality which meant that we had to play four minutes of the game with a player less on a losing streak. These are hellish moments for someone playing water polo in those circumstances.
During the last session Neptunes got the comeback in which I netted three goals. In the end we overturned the result, beating Sliema 10-9, with the last goal being mine. It came in the last minute of the game, where we had a ‘man-up’ situation and scored in the dying moments.
Any downsides so far?
None at all. My sport keeps me healthy, active and refreshes my mind when studying.
Who do you admire in the sports world?
On a local level I highly admire and look up to Niki Lanzon, captain of the Neptunes senior team. He is so talented, and yet keeps his feet on the ground and leads by example. On an international level, I admired the Montenegrin Vladimir Gojkovic who had played for Neptunes in 2012. He was a true example of how players with a small physique could do so much in the water. A true inspiration.
Away from the sports world, whom do you admire?
This definitely has to be my grandfather, who was always extra supportive of my water polo career. And not only did he support me in water polo, but he also taught me some fundamental principles of life, on how to respect and be respected.
What is your most embarrasing sporting memory?
It happened during one of my training sessions this summer when one of my team mates grabbed my swimming costume from the back, ripping a good chunk of it off. Of course I had to quickly hold it together as everything was going to tear apart. Jumping out of the pool, with a massive hole in the back of my swimsuit was quite an embarrassing experience. Near the pool was a gym where a handful of people working out saw me running for my robe half-naked.
What other interests do you have aside from your sport?
Apart from water polo, I just like to enjoy my friends’ company, travelling, and music. If I had more time and money, I would go abroad and take up a course of music production as it interests me a lot.
What are your favourite music and films?
This is a difficult question to answer. It all depends on my mood really. If I had to choose, it would be a mixture of progressive house and normal house music. I also like some rock bands and also reggae but as I said before, it all depends on what mood I am in. My favourite films are Beautiful Mind, Da Vinci Code and Patch Adams.
What is your current situation with your club?
At this stage, I am taking it day by day. Hopefully next year I will find a stable place at Neptunes, especially after my success last season… but all in all that is not for me to decide. Neptunes is a big club with high expectations. If I am not promised a guaranteed place in the squad, I will consider once again joining a first division team as a shared athlete, so as to keep on playing and improving. I will have no hesitation to do that.
What ambitions do you have?
My number one ambition is to make it to the first team at Neptunes and play regularly, but in order for this to happen, a lot of training, sacrifices and good performances are required. And a bit of luck, I suppose. Hopefully my time will come. At this stage I need to give my 100% and just remain patient.
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