It has been a season of highs and lows for Tommy Oar, the midfielder who made the move to Cyprus from Brisbane Roar at the start of the 2017-18 season. He has been in and out of APOEL’s squad with injury limiting the Australian national team player to 14 appearances so far this season. In a squad brimming with local and international national team players, it’s been a challenge for Oar to gain regular football time.
After overcoming a lull in the middle of the campaign, the Nicosia-based club are second on the ladder, only one point behind league leaders AEK Larnaca but with two games in hand.
APOEL’s resurgence is due to the club’s 10-game unbeaten run in the league, and last weekend Oar played from the start in the club’s 8-0 thrashing of Doxa Katokopias.
Even though he is in the midst of the busy end of the season, Oar found time to give Neos Kosmos an insight into playing in Cyprus.
“So far, I’ve really enjoyed my time,” he says. “The people around the club are very warm and helped me settle in quickly and we have already achieved a lot since I arrived.
“It’s the biggest club on the island, both in terms of success and support. We are going for the club’s sixth consecutive title this year and the fans are extremely passionate. With a new training centre almost completed the future also looks very bright.”
The southern part of the island has a population of less than a million people, but with tourist arrivals in summer that number swells to almost three million.
Oar revealed that when he isn’t training or playing he uses his limited free time to explore the island’s natural beauty.
“Cyprus is a beautiful country,” he says. “It’s very safe and nice here and I like the Mediterranean weather and food.” There with his girlfriend, the couple are taking advantage of their time on the island to explore its natural beauty.
“Nicosia itself is full of lots of great things to do, and there are sea caves in Ayia Napa which are a highlight. There are also the Troodos mountains which has snow and beautiful mountain villages throughout. So, the contrast between that and the beach villages is very interesting.”
Oar is also a big fan of the island’s coffee culture, and is quickly adjusting to its relaxed atmosphere.
But it’s not all downtime for Oar, who says that he is also training very hard.
“Because of the amount of games it’s more about recovering and preparing for the next game as fast as possible, so there is not too much time to do a lot in between,” he says.
While off the field Oar is finding life relaxed, the opposite can be said for the pressure he faces on the field especially as APOEL is a club that demands success.
Since APOEL participated in the group stages of the 2011–12 UEFA Champions League (UCL) and topped their group featuring FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Zenit St Petersburg, every subsequent team has attempted to emulate that success.
That season is remembered in the heart of every APOEL fan as the club achieved their best ever result in Europe when they qualified for the quarter-finals of the UCL by defeating French team Olympique Lyonnais in the last 16. That was the first and last time a Cypriot club was able reach the UEFA Champions League final eight. So, when APOEL qualified for the UCL group stages earlier in the season, there were hopes that the club could emulate that success. Unfortunately, the Cypriots found that playing against Real Madrid, Tottenham, and Borussia Dortmund was a bridge too far. Even so, Oar says being able to assist in the early stages of the UCL was a major highlight.
“Obviously qualifying for the Champions League was huge for the club,” says the 26-year-old.
“Aside from that, in the last game before the Christmas break we beat Anorthosis 3-0 away which was a huge victory and a great way to cap a successful start to the season.
“I really enjoyed the atmosphere in that game as well as when we played against the likes of Omonia, AEL and Apollon – it was just incredible. The fans in Cyprus are the most passionate I’ve ever come across. Despite being a small island they still all draw big crowds and it’s an intense atmosphere at the games.
“At the end of the season the league breaks into two for the last 10 games, which means the end of the season will be a big challenge facing the top teams every week.”
This is not the first time Oar has played in Europe. When he was just 18, he left Brisbane Roar and moved to Holland where he spent the next five seasons. After a season with English Championship club Ipswich Town, Oar moved back to Brisbane where he spent the next 18 months.
His form with the Roar earnt him a move back to Europe. Oar says the Cypriot top flight is favourable to other leagues he has experienced.
“There are a lot of technically-gifted players playing in this league, coming from South America, Spain’s La Liga and other top leagues around the world,” he says.
“Teams don’t play as open as they do in the A-League or Eredivisie in Holland. There is more emphasis on defence and playing on the counter attack. It’s difficult to compare the standard because of the contrasting styles. The top five or six teams in Cyprus are strong and the bottom of the league are smaller clubs, but still capable of getting results.
“So the depth isn’t as big as it is in Holland for example, but the challenges playing for one of the bigger clubs is more about breaking down tight defences. The standard here is much higher than people give it credit for. For any Australian harbouring ambitions to play in the European top leagues Cyprus is a fantastic stepping stone.”
Oar was only 18 when he made his Socceroos debut and at that time he was being touted as the next Harry Kewell. He last played for the Socceroos in 2015 and was also an integral member of the team under then coach Ange Postecoglou.
After playing against Holland, Chile and Spain at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil the 28-capped national team player is hoping a strong finish with APOEL will earn him a spot at Russia 2018.
“I’ve still only just turned 26 so I still have a lot of good years ahead of me,” he says.
“The last few years have had some different challenges. I feel I have also been unlucky with some injuries but I’m working hard to get back into the national team and have my best years ahead of me.
“You never know what will happen in football, it’s impossible to predict. Having signed for three years at APOEL I am only focused on winning championships and playing in Europe each season. Beyond that, time will tell.”