The time for talking is over. Following perhaps the biggest upheaval in Canberra elite football history in the off-season., finally the action can commence in the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues: Capital Football competition. The introduction of Gungahlin United into the top flight created a merry-go-round of players meaning that of the nine clubs that comprise the NPL in the national capital only one, FFA COE, come into the new season with a relatively settled squad.
All eyes will therefore be trained on McKellar Park on Saturday evening as Round 1 officially gets underway with what promises to be an epic clash as Belconnen United meet Gungahlin United. Gungahlin enter their debut match in the NPL with something of a goalkeeping crisis as both stoppers, Jason Denham and Costa Fallas, are suspended meaning that the coaching team of Claudio Canosa and Mitch Stevens will need to blood another custodian.
The Gunners will also be without suspended midfielder Shane Murray who was sent off in a pre-season altercation with Tigers FC, and there are doubts surrounding the fitness of Milan Popovich (back) and 2014 Golden Boot Stephen Domenici. However, Gungahlin still possess a roster full of talent with ex-Blue Devils star Dustin Wells returning to his old stomping ground as part of a front three that includes the pace of Michael John and the predatory instincts of Daniel Barac. Jack Green will marshal the Gunners defence against his old club.
Belconnen have a number of injury concerns themselves with Captain, and the heartbeat of the side, Taylor Beaton likely to miss the clash as he recovers from an ankle injury. Blue Devils boss Dean Ugrinic will also be without Cameron Reinhart (hamstring) and David Kemp (who is getting married) but there should be a home debut for central defender Matt Grbesa, snaffled from Canberra FC in the summer. Both clubs are hopeful for a huge crowd at the venue as the season promises to start with a bang.
On Sunday League Champions Tigers FC begin the defence of their crown with the visit of Woden-Weston FC to Nijong Oval. The Tigers have been in free-scoring form in the pre-season friendly matches they have played with Head Coach Gaby Wilk showing no inclination to pass up on the style of play that ended their title drought last term. It’s always been about goals at Nijong Oval and with their off-season acquisitions, little appears to have changed.
The signing of striker Alex Oloriegbe, scorer of seventeen goals for Canberra FC last season, has bolstered an already strong attack with the forward returning to the club after a hiatus with the red. Oloriegbe will be tasked with replacing the goals of Domenici who joined Gungahlin. He won’t be alone in his quest to find the target as Goran Josifovski (13 goals) is still available and is joined by new recruit Lucas Montana – a former Boca Juniors youth player. Keep an eye out as well for the exciting Michael Kita who has been raising one or two eyebrows with a serious of outstanding performances in pre-season, marking the teenager as one to watch.
Woden-Weston FC enter the match under the tutelage of Miro Trninic with the former Canberra FC head-man tasked with forming a competitive team out of the remains of the old Woden Valley NPL side, of whom only half-a-dozen players remain from 2014. Trninic has called on the experience of a clutch of former Canberra City players including defenders David Dexter and James Perry as well as the skills and goalscoring of Sam McDonald. A raft of youngsters competing for spots should add energy and enthusiasm to the team and they will be aiming to get the season off to a positive start.
Over at Deakin Stadium a new-look Canberra FC begin the season by welcoming Monaro Panthers to their home ground. New Head Coach Zoran Glavinic has been busy in the off-season replenishing the stocks at Deakin in an effort to guide his team back towards the trophy trail. The signing of all-action midfielder Robbie Deeley and youngster Tom Milicevic help to solidify an already titanically strong central core. Deeley will line up alongside the likes of Ian Graham, Andy Rakic and James Field with the width and pace provided by Daniel Bennett and Josip Jadric, both of whom have recovered from injuries suffered in pre-season to stake their claim. Up front is perhaps the only area of concern for Glavinic with Thomas James unavailable and a doubt surrounding the fitness of Muad Zwed, a summer recruit from Tuggeranong United.
Monaro meanwhile enter the dragon’s den with heavily changed team themselves under the command of new coach Graeme Plath. Plath spent the summer enticing some new faces to the Riverside Stadium and was successful in the capture of Tuggeranong United trio Matt Menser, Tim Stewart and Chris Ruiz. In the danger zone Mark Shields will be relied upon to rediscover the goal-den touch that he showed at Canberra Olympic in what will be a difficult and, no doubt, testing start to the season.
The final match of the round sees Tuggeranong United welcome Canberra Olympic to Kambah 2. Both teams have had a major overhaul in the summer months with Tuggeranong losing a number of players from their successful FFA Cup campaign. However, Steve Forshaw has replaced those departed well and an injection of extra pace and energy will be most welcome. Sam Shadbolt looks to be a promising signing in the crucial central defensive position whilst Centre-forward Zac Munster has been in good goalscoring form in the pre-season and he will be looking to start the NPL season in style.
The same goes for Olympics’ new goalscoring threat, Philippe Bernabo-Madrid. Bernabo-Madrid had a torrid 2014 season at Canberra FC and a departure for pastures new should help the classy striker rekindle his passion and desire for the game, something that has been apparent over the build-up. He’s joined by Robbie Cattanach, the dual ACT Player of the Year, and their partnership could spell trouble for Tuggeranong. Two former Tuggies players, midfielders Jon Toole and Daniel Colbertaldo, will be keen to be a part of this fixture as they return to their former club with Colbertaldo already having scored against Tuggeranong as Olympic triumphed at this venue 4-1 in a pre-season friendly success.
Saturday 11th April
Belconnen United v Gungahlin United (McKellar Park), 5:30pm
Sunday 12th April
Canberra FC v Monaro Panthers (Deakin Stadium), 3:00pm
Tuggeranong United v Canberra Olympic (Kambah 2), 3:00pm
Tigers FC v Woden-Weston FC v (Nijong Oval), 3:00pm
-content provided by Capital Football-