ECU Joondalup will embark on a campaign to end a 14-year trophy drought when they take on Floreat Athena in the semi-finals of The West Australian Top Four Cup at ECU Stadium.
Success for ECU would mean more to coach Dale McCulloch than most, the now 35-year-old having been part of Joondalup’s Cup-winning side of 2002 as a player.
“A lot of the boys are fresh to the club and they’re only just getting to know the history,” McCulloch said. “We all just want to get out there and have a crack at it.
“The side we’ve got now is probably the best since we won the league (in 1999). You can feel it because it’s so close but there’s still a lot of hard work and three hard games to go before you can take home the silverware.”
Key striker Gordon Smith, who picked up a knee injury in ECU’s last league game, could be missing for the match against a Floreat side determined to add another trophy to their cabinet.
Although Athena coach Glen Grostate has already hit two season targets – winning the Cool Ridge Cup and reaching the Westfield FFA Cup Round of 32 – his players are hungry for more.
“It’s been a big year for Floreat so in preparing for this I’ve just been reminding them how good it felt to win the Cool Ridge Cup and to play against Melbourne City,” Grostate said.
“But we’re really well matched (with ECU) and it will be a hard game.”
Defeat for either side will end their season, while victory will take them into a mid-week preliminary final against either Perth SC or Inglewood United.
Champions Perth will host second-placed Inglewood in Saturday’s major semi-final at Dorrien Gardens with the victorious side to host the Top Four Cup Final and the loser to play in the preliminary final.
Inglewood have revenge on their minds after being beaten to the league title by Perth in the final round.
While Perth won away at Sorrento, Inglewood, who had gone into the final round on top of the table, lost at home to ECU.
Inglewood coach Taki Nicolaidis said his side was determined to make amends.
“There’s one piece of silverware to play for and our guys are keen to go out on a high,” he said. “We’re up against the champions and it’s a good test for us to prove a point.
“We’ve done all these hard yards, so let’s get our mindset right and prove that we are the best team this year.”
Perth coach Ramon Falzon said his players had just two days to soak up the euphoria of league championship before returning to business.
“Forty-eight hours after we won the championship we were back on the training pitch,” Falzon said. “We need to face forward and focus on what’s ahead of us, rather than being stuck in the past.”
Perth will welcome back skipper Clark Keltie, who was suspended for last week’s crowning moment, but striker Gustavo Catarcione is suspended after his late expulsion against Sorrento.
Saturday, September 3
Perth SC v Inglewood United (Dorrien Gardens, 3pm)
ECU Joondalup v Floreat Athena (ECU Football Stadium, 3pm)