The Pre-Season is upon us: The Hunt for Back to Back Begins

Jake Rachwalski

The Western Bulldogs, the current premiers. Has that sunk in yet? Not only AFL, but VFL premiers, while our women are currently hunting for glory for the club to concurrently hold all three trophies possible.

Four months has gone quick, and after one of the most enjoyable off-seasons ever, twenty-seventeen is upon us.

The first big move of the off-season was the acquisition of experienced Collingwood forward, Travis Cloke to further strengthen the already impressive forward line at the kennel.

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2016 Premiers, The Footscray/Western Bulldogs

Ruck prospect Tim English was the Bulldogs first selection in the National Draft, as life-long dogs fan Patrick Lipinski was also drafted. Other off-season ins included Fergus Greene, Lewis Young, Nathan Mullenger-McHugh and Tristan Tweedie.

Former All-Australian and twenty-sixteen VFL premiership player Will Minson was the most notable departure, being de-listed, while Joel Hamling was traded to Fremantle, Nathan Hrovat to North Melbourne and Koby Stevens to St. Kilda. More importantly for the dogs, Norm Goss Medalist Lin Jong re-signed after persistent rumours throughout the twenty-sixteen season he’d leave the club.

After multiple players received post-season surgeries, there has been a relatively unscathed pre-season at Whitten Oval, with spiritual leader Robert Murphy set to play the first pre-season game against Melbourne.  Marcus Adams and Stewart Crameri will also return.

The only injured players of note are Matthew Suckling with an achillies problem, Liam Picken with a minor facial injury, and Mitch Wallis and Jack Redpath who are still recovering from last season’s horrific injuries against St. Kilda.

The opening game for the Western Bulldogs will be against an up and coming Melbourne at Whitten Oval, then Brisbane at Docklands and Gold Coast up north. Although wins aren’t important in the pre-season, form from returning players is.

What will help the dogs is immense depth, as multiple players will be fighting it out for positions in the round one side for the Friday night blockbuster against Collingwood at the MCG. Stewart Crameri and Toby McLean, Travis Cloke and Tom Boyd, Fletcher Roberts and Zaine Cordy, are some of the players that could be fighting for the same spot in the side; just what you want to see coming off a premiership season.

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Former Collingwood Forward Travis Cloke at training with his new club, as coach Luke Beveridge looks on.

The confidence super coach Luke Beveridge instils into his players will put them in good stead to adjust to any new or tinkered game plan, as other sides will try and break the Bulldogs. The successful handball game you’d assume won’t be substituted from their game, as it’s an efficient way for players to dispose of the ball when they’re on their wrong kicking foot.

Each year a young player emerges from the clouds, in twenty-fourteen it was Marcus Bontempelli, twenty-fifteen it was Jake Stringer, twenty-sixteen it was the recently re-signed Caleb Daniel, so who will it be this season? Josh Dunkley, Toby McLean, Zaine Cordy?  They are all possibilities as well as any of the new recruits – Luke Beveridge has brought out the best in every footballer, and as a dogs supporter I’ve learnt it’s best to sit back, enjoy the ride and never be surprised at the next turn. With Bevo at the helm, anything’s possible.

Western Bulldogs (JLT Community Series) Pre-Season Fixture:

Vs Melbourne Saturday 18th February 2017 4:40pm, Whitten Oval.

Vs Brisbane Thursday 2nd March 2017 7:40pm, Etihad Stadium.

Vs Gold Coast Thurday 9th March 2017 5:50pm, Metricon Stadium.

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Grassroots on the National Stage

Jake Rachwalski

2016 FFA Cup Draw and Round of 32 Previews

The tournament which has debatably been the FFA’s biggest success in recent memory is back for its third instalment. Although last year’s cup had its controversy with high ticket prices and Melbourne Victory captain Carl Valeri unable to join his team as they won the cup because of a red card late in the final, there were a lot of positives that came out of the tournament.

11,372 was the crowd at Heidelberg’s Olympic Village for a clash between them and Melbourne City, just fewer than 5,000 saw Balmain play Melbourne Victory at Leichardt Oval and 5,575 saw Hume City host Melbourne Victory in a semi final, at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium. Melbourne Victory manager Kevin Muscat said post match “It was a difficult game for us tonight, it was one we’d expected. We’ve seen and played against them [Hume City] a couple of times and credits got to be given to the way Hume conducted themselves tonight.”

Some memorable match-ups included Rockdale City Suns almost sending their game against Melbourne Victory into extra time, Hume City’s extra time winners firstly against Brisbane Strikers then Oakleigh Cannons and two penalty shootout classics in the round of 32 between Palm Beach and South Melbourne and Sydney United and South Hobart.

When this year’s tournament was drawn, instantly eyes lit up at some of the Round of 32 matches. Last year’s semi finalists Hume City come up against one of Australia’s most historic clubs Marconi Stallions in Melbourne, Shamrock Rovers Darwin face Brisbane Strikers at home, South Australia’s North Eastern Metro Stars will play against 2014 semi-finalists and red hot Bentleigh Greens and a game which could possibly break attendance records Wollongong Wolves play host to Sydney FC.

As well as the usual 10 A-league clubs, 11 clubs are making their debut appearances in the round of 32 and the only 2 state league semi finalists of the Cup, Bentleigh Greens and Hume City are back to try and make another run.

Importance in the Cup is more than wins, losses and personal accolades with the Wollongong Wolves using their game against Sydney FC as a platform for A-League inclusion. Wollongong manager Jacob Timpano told SBS’ World Game “It’s an opportunity again for the Illawarra to put our best foot forward for an A-League team in the future,”

“We had a game in the first year of the FFA Cup against the Mariners, and the All Stars game drew a good crowd down here. Sydney FC has played here, the Matildas have played here, so it’s a big area and an important area and at some stage we do deserve a team in the A-League.”

Ex-NSL and other state league hopefuls will also want to put their best foot forward on and off the park to prove Australia can sustain a promotion relegation system. Although unlikely for some time, mummers persist if Australia can, should or would sustain a system of such with it having to compete with other summer sports like Cricket and Basketball for crowds and air time. But if football fanatics and the general public get behind games at local venues, it could continue to press a compelling argument for promotion relegation towards the Football Federation.

Heidelberg United Vs Melbourne City in last year's 2015 FFA Cup Quarter Final at Olympic Village (Photo from Zimbio Website)
Heidelberg United Vs Melbourne City in last year’s 2015 FFA Cup Quarter Final at Olympic Village (Photo from Zimbio Website)

Games to watch:

Hume City Vs Marconi Stallions at ABD Stadium A battle between last year’s cup fairytale and an ex NSL giant will take place in the Northern Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows on Wednesday 27th July. Hume a formidable outfit, currently 4th in NPL Victoria feature former A-League players Theo Markelis, Peter Franjic, Kofi Danning, Jeremy Walker and Herman Espindola. They also have overseas experience from Tom Cahill, keeper Chris Oldfield and Captain Nick Hegarty. Although Marconi has dropped down to New South Wales’ 2nd division they’re currently 4th on the table and having a solid season competing against Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers Youth sides. Marconi feature former A-League players Mirjan Pavlovic, Sean Rooney and Marko Jesic.

My Prediction – With a lot of A-league and Cup experience over the park Hume look too strong especially at home against the side ranked the equal lowest in the Australian football pyramid to qualify.

Hume City 3-0 Marconi Stallions

 

Hume City team photo prior to 2015 FFA Cup Semi Final
Hume City team photo prior to 2015 FFA Cup Semi Final (Photo from FFA Website)

Green Gully Vs Central Coast Mariners at Green Gully Reserve – Cup debutants against the A-League’s cellar dwellers, Green Gully and Central Coast Mariners will face off on Tuesday August 2nd at Green Gully Reserve. The club established in 1955 by Maltese immigrants and participated in the old NSL from 1984-1986, are arguably hosting their biggest ever game and will be eager to cause a major upset. Currently 5th on the Victorian NPL table they’ve won 3 of their last 5 league matches and defeated Geelong SC [on penalties], Heidelberg United and Bulleen Lions in their last 3 qualifying games to get to this stage of the competition. Green Gully has vast experience from former Melbourne Victory fan favourite Rodrigo Vargas, Japanese born Yohei Iwasaki, English born Daniel Jones and former A-League players George Lambadaridis and Kliment Taseski. Central Coast the side that have sparked talk of promotion and relegation over the last two seasons due to their atrocious form have made many changes since their last. Adding Jacques Faty, Mikael Tavares and experienced keeper Ivan Necevski from Sydney FC and Connor Pain from Melbourne Victory who’ll be eager to make an impact at his new club. Although youthful, Central Coast are well complemented through Captain Nick Montgomery, Roy O’Donovan, Fabio Ferreira and Joshua Rose and will be looking to win the cup and give something for the Gosford locals to smile about.

My Prediction – This’ll be a tight one with Central Coast looking to re-bound from their last 2 seasons while Green Gully’s good form, home ground advantage and experience can’t be ignored, an upset could be on the cards.

Green Gully 2-1 Central Coast Mariners

New Central Coast signing Jacques Faty (Photo from CCM Website)
New Central Coast signing Jacques Faty (Photo from CCM Website)

Newcastle Jets Vs Melbourne Victory at Magic Park The only A-League club never to have won a game in the Cup comes up against last year’s champions at Magic Park in Newcastle on Wednesday 3rd August. The Jets had an improved 2015/16 A-League season although missing out on finals for a 6th season in a row. Their firepower includes Danish forward Morten Nordstrand who scored 4 goals after signing for Newcastle in late January, as well as new signing former Fulham youth player Wayne Brown. Melbourne Victory will be looking to improve on their early finals knockout and by their standards poor season with a good start to their Cup title defence. They have added James Donachie, Mitch Austin and experienced Spaniard Alan Baro to their ranks after losing Matthieu Delpierre, Gui Finkler, Kosta Barbarouses and club legend Archie Thompson just to name a few.

My Prediction – This could be closer than a lot may think with Melbourne Victory having a poor record in Newcastle [although breaking a 7 year hoodoo there in January] and a hungry Jets side looking to make amends for the last 2 cup campaign failures. Melbourne has made some good signings while the Jets have also been rather pro-active in the off-season adding 6 young players to their ranks and are likely to surprise a few.

Newcastle Jets 2-1 Melbourne Victory

Melbourne Victory celebrate their 2015 FFA Cup triumph
Melbourne Victory celebrate their 2015 FFA Cup triumph (Photo from MVFC Website)

Wollongong Wolves Vs Sydney FC at WIN Stadium – A battle of A-League hopefuls against A-League giants will be played out at Wollongong’s WIN Stadium on Wednesday 10th of August. Wollongong Wolves and Sydney FC both have a lot of history behind them. Wollongong participated in the old NSL from 1981 to 2004, besides 1987 which they spent in the NSW state league, winning 2 consecutive NSL titles from 1999-2001 and winning the 2001 OFC Champions League. After a failed bid in 2004 to become one of the foundation clubs of the A-League Wollongong still have aspirations to play in Australia’s top flight once again. Sydney FC on the other hand have been one of the successful stories of the A-League winning 2 championships and premierships as well as attracting star players such as Alessandro Del Piero, Mark Janko, Alex Brosque and Brett Emerton. A possible sold out crowd and huge TV Audience will watch this game which Wollongong will hope can spur them on to an upset win. Wollongong currently 2nd last on the NPL NSW table [11th] haven’t had the greatest of seasons and had a rather easy qualifying run defeating Bulli and Wagga in the last 2 stages of the competition. Ex Sydney FC player Jacob Tipmano is manager and ex Central Coast Mariners player Justin Pasfield is between the sticks. After a poor A-League season which Sydney finished 7th and missed out on finals they have lost 12 players including Jacques Fatty, Zac Anderson and Ali Abbas and have only gained 2 albeit star players Alex Wilkinson and Michael Zullo from City.

My Prediction – Although Sydney have lost a dozen players on paper they look classier then Wollongong and will be looking to rebound off a poor season and start the new one with a bang.

Wollongong Wolves 1-4 Sydney FC

Wollongong Vs Central Coast Mariners in 2014 FFA Cup  (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)
Wollongong Vs Central Coast Mariners in 2014 FFA Cup (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

 

The World Success of Auckland City FC

Jake Rachwalski 

When you hear about world football clubs and International success the first couple that spring to mind might be Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich, but a little known club in New Zealand Auckland City FC have had their fare share of success domestically, continentally and internationally.

Based in Auckland New Zealand’s largest and most populous city, Auckland City FC was formed in 2004 as an original member of the New Zealand Football Championship. The football championship was created to replace the now former New Zealand National Soccer League.

Much like Australia’s A-League which was created a year later, the Football Championship originally featured 8 franchise styled entities and traditional clubs were not given the opportunity to compete.

Auckland City competed in the first ever competitive New Zealand Football Championship game setting the example for what was to come defeating Napier City Rovers [now Hawke’s Bay United] 3-1 in Napier.

Playing out at the picturesque Kiwitea Street ground Auckland City took out the league’s first season by 6 points from their closest rival Waitakere United and then went on to claim the double defeating the same team in the 2005 Grand Final 3-2.

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Auckland City celebrating a penalty shootout victory

Taking out the league earned Auckland a spot in that year’s OFC Club Championship, their first of many appearances. They would leave disappointed though unable to get out of the group stage losing to the newly formed Sydney FC who would go on to win the first A-league championship a year later and Tahitian side AS Pirae. There was consolation from their final group game defeating Sobou FC from Papua New Guinea 6-1, finishing the tournament in 3rd place in their group.

Since then Auckland City has been a powerhouse domestically in New Zealand and continentally in Oceania. Winning a further 6 premierships and 5 championships, and taking out the OFC Champions League 8 times including winning the last 6 tournaments after defeating fellow New Zealand side Team Wellington in this year’s final.

This year’s title win qualified Auckland for their 6th straight Club World Cup appearance, the most consecutive appearances by any club in the world and the most at a Club World Cup.

Their most notable appearance at a Club World Cup was in 2014 where they finished the tournament in 3rd place. On their way to doing so Auckland beat Moroccan champions Moghreb Tetouan 4-3 on penalties, African Champions ES Setif from Algeria 1-0 and CONCACAF champions Cruz Azul from Mexico 4-2 on penalties after regular time finished 1-1.

The only teams who finished higher in the tournament were Real Madrid and San Lorenzo. All Whites legend Ivan Vichelich received the bronze ball for his efforts in that tournament.

Auckland City Competing at a Club World Cup.
Auckland City Competing at a Club World Cup.

After seasons of dominance in New Zealand and Oceania, there has been calls from Australia to include Auckland City in the A-League to create a New Zealand derby with the Wellington Phoenix. Even with their success it’s unlikely they’ll be in the A-League anytime soon due to the previous failure of Auckland based New Zealand Knights.

Club president Ivan Vuksich has previously stated hands on support from investors; ones close to the team [in New Zealand] were needed for the club to succeed at a professional level.

Although since then a potential investor and Wellington Phoenix board member Gareth Morgan has stated “If Auckland got off its butt, I would be there. I just think it would be a good idea for the game. The conversations I have had with the FFA in Australia is that they are supportive of the idea.”