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INTEREST IN THE FFA CUP AT A HIGH WITH A RECORD NUMBER OF ILLAWARRA CLUBS COMPETING IN THE 2020 COMPETITION
Australia’s national knockout competition, the FFA Cup, has gained increasing intrigue, excitement and engagement across the football community since its inception in 2014, which has been reflected by a record 17 clubs from the Illawarra, 15 Football South Coast clubs as well as South Coast Flame and the Wollongong Wolves, entering in the cup’s 2020 edition.
Among the 17 clubs are 3 debutants, District League sides Kiama Quarriers and the Unanderra Hearts as well as Community League club, Dandaloo FC.
In their first outing in the FFA Cup, Kiama and Unanderra were both drawn local derby’s against IFS Community Wolves and Picton respectively.
Kiama coach, Curtis Campbell is looking forward to their maiden campaign with eager anticipation, explaining his club entered the competition ‘to have experienced Australia’s version of the FA Cup.’
Campbell also relayed how the Cup’s unique set of challenges such as playing oppositions that the club would never come up against otherwise added extra motivation to enter.
“The fact you can get drawn against anyone anywhere makes it (the FFA Cup) appealing, if only for the novelty.”
Ahead of their clash with Community League club, the IFS Community Wolves, Campbell’s expectations for his side are high, “On paper it’s a game we should win, I’m not about to take one of those TV pro coach interview routines and say ‘it’s going to be a very difficult task, as they are coming here with nothing to lose’, I fully expect us to win given the difference in levels.”
However, Campbell outlined that the ultimate goal for Kiama is to ride their luck and make it past at least the first few rounds.
“We don’t kid ourselves that we will get far enough to play any of the real big boys but it would be nice if we could play a team from a higher level than us and have a day out.”
Rod Williams, coach of Unanderra, has had first-hand experience of playing against the ‘big boys’ in the FFA Cup already, through his former association with NPL club APIA Leichhardt who knocked off A-League giants, Melbourne Victory, in 2018. An advocate of the FFA Cup, Williams finds ‘beauty’ in the ‘sheer scope of the competition’ which will provide opportunities for Hearts to potentially play sides all over the state, whether that be in rural areas, Sydney or in the Illawarra itself. Williams also finds the Cup’s ability to provide upsets every year to be ‘a benefit to football in general.’
First up for the Williams and the Hearts is fellow District League side Picton away from home, an opponent who he has the utmost respect for but hopes he can overcome.
“I’d like to think that we can go to Picton and do a job but they’re a very good outfit and playing them at Picton is not going to be an easy task, but we’ll give it our best shot and hopefully get through to the next round.”
Returning to the competition following their debut in 2019 is Community League side, Albion Park City. Ahead of their Round 2 match against Canterbury District side, Football Club Five Dock, City president, Adrian Arculi stated that is was ‘a great honour’ to be playing to the cup once again.
Gaining a reputation for signing up stars for special occasions following former Socceroo captain and SBS football pundit, Craig Foster’s appearance for Albion Park in last year’s 6-0 FFA Cup defeat to Coniston and gathering together an assembly of former Australian stars including Luke Wilshere, Scott Chipperfield, David Carney and Brett Emerton as well as Rugby League legend Robbie Farah for their ‘Football for Firies’ fundraiser match against the Wollongong Wolves, Arculi hinted that City may have a special guest lined up for their Round 2 clash; “we always have something up our sleeves but we will work out what’s best with the team before deciding that.”
In what is one of the longest road trips in the Preliminary stages of the FFA Cup this year, local defending League Champions Wollongong Olympic face a 526km road trip to Yoogali (a suburb of Griffith). George Antoniou may be forced to field a second string squad particularly if his side make the Fraternity Club Cup Final which is scheduled for the same weekend.
While it seems unlikely, clubs will be eyeing a spot in the national round of 32. In the 2019 edition of the Cup, Round 5 was the furthest any Football South Coast side progressed with Coniston losing out 2-0 to Manly United, Bulli succumbing to a 4-2 defeat at home against Bonnyrigg White Eagle and Wollongong United unable to overcome fellow Macedonian side, Rockdale City Suns, going down 3-2. However, there is good reason to believe that a local club could progress further this season, following the success of Bulli and Kemblawarra in 2017 and Tarrawanna in 2018 who all qualified for Round 7, the final fixture before the national round of 32.
If a club was to qualify for the Round of 32, the positive effects on football in the region would be considerable according to the Head of Men’s Football, Frank Gigliotti.
“It would be fantastic, it would be great for Illawarra football, it would make the league the envy of the rest of regional football, possibly cause an increase in juniors coming through wanting to play the game and wanting to get to the same level, and it would be tremendous for any A-league bid that the Illawarra may be planning.”
Any potential run to the national draw would surely capture the hearts and imagination of Illawarra football fans and offer the tantalising prospect of a Football South Coast club playing in a tie against an A-League club or the Wollongong Wolves, who have already qualified for the Round of 32 as a result of being NPL champions.
2020 Illawarra FFA Cup draw (Illawarra Clubs in Bold)
Round 2: (14-15 March 2020)
Wyoming FC vs Dandaloo FC
Tarrawanna Blueys vs Sans Souci FC
Picton Rangers vs Unanderra Hearts
Kiama Quarriers vs IFS Community Wolves
Albion Park White Eagles vs Epping FC
Kellyville Kolts vs Wollongong United
University FC vs West Pennant Hills Cherrybrook
Yoogali FC vs Wollongong Olympic
Albion Park City vs Football Club Five Dock
Penrith Rovers vs Port Kembla SC
Ryde Saints vs Coledale Waves
Springwood vs Coniston FC
Georges River Thistles / Hills Hawks vs South Coast Flame
Bulli vs Glebe Wanderers / Bankstown Dragons
National Round of 32:
Wollongong Wolves vs TBD
Story by Nic Wilson