Contenders ready for FNQ season

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Rose Calvert

The 2016 Far North Queensland Premier Men’s League will see a host of young players transitioning  into the senior arena this season, as was the theme of the official season launch held Friday night at the Hilton Hotel in Cairns.

In accustomed fashion, club officials and coaches kept their game sheets close, but the predominant theme was the conditioning of junior and youth players to join the senior ranks, indicating that this year’s Premier Leagues will have quite the youthful look.

Another interesting trend was the return of a few familiar faces who expressed resignations in last year’s season wrap, namely Mareeba’s Alex Srhoj, Edge Hill’s Dean Ashton and FNQ President Duncan Sims.

A considerable amount of early and late season injuries combined with a newly reforming club structure saw the Leichhardt Lions Football Club Premier Mens finish fourth-place last year. It was a different story for the club’s under 16 and youth teams who were unstoppable last season, sharing premiership and grand final spoils.

Club president Gavin Rumble was optimistic about the strength of the club for the 2016 season.

“We have a really strong, dedicated committee this year which is going to be a big help ensuring all of our players are well catered,” Rumble explained.

“Having Stacey Fittock as head coach for a second year has been crucial to ensuring the development of the youth and seeing them progress the ranks into our senior squads.”

Rumble revealed the inclusion of new recruits from the Townsville leagues as well as players from other local clubs that have joined the club which is seeing strong numbers at pre-season trainings each week.

Edge Hill United Football Club veteran Rob Wales has taken on the role of player-coach for the 2016 season and highlighted the influx of transient players who are attracted to the club because of its central location.

“It’s always a great thing at the start of the season to have a host of new players, but it doesn’t help with the task of retaining players”, Wales said. “Mareeba have always been good at that [task]”.

Wales, who has enjoyed former multiple successes as a coach, hopes his side can follow in the footsteps of the club’s Premier Women’s side who have kept the silverware cupboard full over the past decade.

“The ladies are the benchmark team for women’s soccer and it’s an amazing feat what they’ve done over the years”, Wales mentioned. “My hope is to get us boys winning like that again this season.”

With resignation rumours circulating last year, Alex Srhoj confirmed his role as head coach for the Mareeba Bulls, no doubt with a mission to win back the Crad Evans after last year’s upset.

“It’s been a slow start to the year pre-season wise,” Srhoj commented. “We usually have the Mazda Cup to help with our pre-season campaign but the carnival was cancelled this year.”

“It’s going to be a transitional year for the Bulls with the youth coming through to join our senior players.”

Marlin Coast and Southside echoed similar stories with club rebuilds and young players stepping into the senior ranks. Southside has gained former FNQ Heat FC Technical Director Chris Collins as their head coach and the club has seen healthy numbers of players during their pre-season build up.

Last year’s runners-up Stratford Dolphin’s FC have recruited former Southside head coach Doug Baird as the man to help the side go one step further this season. New Club President Geoff Byfield had strong opinions on moving the club out of its ‘sleeping giant’ phase and back to its former glory years.

“We’ve had no silverware on the table for a number of years,” Byfield said. “We have a point to prove this year and that is our mission.”

This year sees the return of two divisions in the Women’s competition, with the newly named Women’s Championship League hosting four sides to form the lower tier to the Premier Women’s League.

Edge Hill Tiger’s Coach Dean Ashton announced his retirement at last year’s season wrap, however the multiple award-winning coach took to the stage to explain to MC Brian Stopford that it wasn’t his plan to be coaching again this season.

“I’ve been coaching the [Edge Hill] girls for seven years so it was time for a break and I was hoping to start a family,” Ashton explained. “But by mid-February the girls still hadn’t found a coach so I didn’t really see any other option.”

“Now that I’m back in the role I’m looking forward to the season and am excited about bringing the younger girls in to the premier squad this year.”

Leichhardt Lions’ new Vice President Kylie Sabatino spoke on behalf of head coach Pasco Rogato, indicating a strong squad with a mix of youth, seniors and former Innisfail players.

“We had a great early pre-season, starting back in January,” Sabatino said. “And we’ve had some good success in pre-season games against some Townsville teams.”

Head coach Ryan Bidgood returns to Southside this year who will no doubt be aiming to go one step further after losing two consecutive grand finals. Captains Holly Spence and Kristen Forrester-

Bidgood said that the team was on track with a good pre-season run and some quality new young players joining the ranks.

“A big loss to the side this year is [Queensland representative] Shania Forrester-Bidgood who has moved to Brisbane for university commitments,” Spence commented.

Tamara Srhoj will follow in her brother’s footsteps this season, taking on head coach duties for the Mareeba Bulls Women’s Premier team. Srhoj explained last year’s poor performance was due to a severe lack of numbers.

“We couldn’t field a team”, Srhoj said. “But it has been a great start to the year for the women as we have a full squad on board this season.”

Making a joke about the estrogen levels of the Mareeba committee this year with a host of new female representatives taking up committee roles, Srhoj expressed her desire to see more collaboration with the clubs, the FNQ Zone and the FNQ Heat FC.

FNQ Heat FC’s new coach Tim Campbell was invited to the stage to wrap up the evening with comment on the state of the club’s progress so far.

“There’s been a shake-up of things this year and the club has been better for it,” Campbell commented. “The team are working for each other which is evident through the side’s recent successes so far.”

Saturday afternoon sees Leichhardt Lions take on Edge Hill United in the FFA Cup at Barlow Park before the main game where the Heat FC meet Gold Coast FC in their round 4 NPL fixture.

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