|By JOHN GRECO
Lucas Neill has admitted he did indicate to Melbourne Heart officials he was interested in joining the club but has denied his 11th-hour back-flip to link up with Sydney FC was about money.
Neill completed his first training session with the Sky Blues on Sunday after agreeing to finish the season on a guest stint with the club.
But the circumstances surrounding the deal have infuriated Heart, who accused the Australia international captain of reneging on a promise to join them.
Neill used his first official press conference with Sydney to clear the air, apologising for any confusion he may have caused the Heart but said the chance to join his local club was too hard to turn down.
"I did give an indication that I would be excited about the opportunity of going to Melbourne [Heart]," Neill told reporters on Sunday.
"There was never a case of leveraging one club against the other.
"But when the opportunity became very real to join Sydney, it was a difficult decision, but it was an easy one from a family point of view.
"I was born in Sydney, raised in Sydney and it's exciting times here at Sydney FC to commit myself to this club."
Neill was adamant the decision had nothing to do with money, revealing he turned down a more lucrative offer from the Heart to play for the Sky Blues.
"As far as [Heart] being gazumped at the last minute it was never a question of money. My intention was always to come here for football reasons and I made it very clear this wasn't financial," he said.
"It's well documented that Melbourne's offer was 100 [$100,000] and I've signed here for 70 [$70,000].
"To the Melbourne Heart board and Johnny Aloisi and Hayden [Foxe], I apologise if I gave too much of an indication I was heading down to Melbourne.
"I wish them all the best and in an ironic way I look forward to playing against them this weekend."
While Neill was released from United Arab Emirates Pro League club Al Wasl in January, he is confident his fitness levels are good enough to get through 90 minutes immediately.
The 34-year-old said he was excited about playing alongside Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero and, while this deal is only until the end of the current campaign, he is open to remaining in the A-League next season.
Asked what he will offer to the Sky Blues, Neill said: "I'll bring hunger.
"It's only a short period of time so whatever impact I can make I'm excited by.
"Even from the one training session I've had there's a belief and confidence in the group and hopefully I can add more belief and confidence.
"I haven't come here just to make up the numbers. I want to push for Sydney to get into the finals, into the knockout stages and from there anything is possible."
Sydney FC coach Frank Farina indicated Neill is likely to be thrown straight into his starting side for next Sunday's crunch clash with the Heart in Melbourne.
The Sky Blues boss believes Neill's experience will be crucial in his side's finals push and says he's just the type of player the club needs to get there.
"Sydney is one of the biggest, if not the biggest teams in this country and our board, our chairman, our owners and fans expect and they demand us to win," Farina said.
"Other clubs want to win but they don't expect and demand as this club does.
"It's huge expectations and we need players who understand that and can play under that pressure. Otherwise you don't survive at this club. Lucas is here to play, he can handle pressure and playing for a club like this."