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. 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 FCto 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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