Stephens hoping to repay McCarthy's faith in him against Orlando Pirates
Sage Stephens was a surprise acquisition by Cape Town City at the start of the season‚ but the goalkeeper has grabbed his chance with both hands and flipped a flagging career on its head in the Mother City.
Stephens will be in goal on Wednesday night as City host Orlando Pirates in the Nedbank Cup Last 16 having taken the number one jersey from the vastly experienced Shu-Aib Walters.
It is by far the best campaign of his career‚ having spent the previous two seasons with AmaZulu in the National First Division‚ and before that sat mostly on the sidelines during six years spent at Moroka Swallows.
“Coach [Benni McCarthy] has shown a lot of faith in me‚ all the performances and clean-sheets I have done‚" Stephens said.
"He has given me a chance to prove I can play consistently every game.
“If you put in the work at training‚ you get a chance. He is fair.”
Stephens says there is healthy competition between him and Walters‚ but it is the 26-year-old who appears to be well on top.
“We have had a good relationship from the start. He has shown me the ropes and I have a lot to learn from a keeper like Shu-Aib‚ who was involved with the national team just last season.
“There is stiff competition‚ when it comes to work we are enemies because we are fighting for one position‚ but when we come off the field we are friends.”
Stephens says he is relieved to finally be working with a coach who admires his talent.
“I was in the NFD last season and at Swallows it was a terrible run‚ I never got a fair go. But you don’t worry about the negatives‚ you think to the future.
"Luckily I have come to the right place with a coach who gives a chance to everyone.”
He was on the bench the last time City played Pirates‚ a 1-0 defeat in the league in September.
It was a game in which an error from Walters led to a Thabo Qalinge goal that would ultimately see Stephens handed his chance.
“A lot has changed at Pirates since then‚ the coach [Micho Sredojevic] has brought his own philosophy in and I think under him they are doing well‚” Stephens says.
“Up front they are deadly‚ they are good on the counter-attack and he has brought a lot of consistency to the team. We are up for a big game.”