Football galore with more Australia Cup matches across the weekend

Football season is finally underway and today has a whole heap in store for NNSWF Northern Inland, with six Northern Inland Premier League Clubs in action across Australia Cup matches.

Armidale’s Doody Park will host two fixtures that will both be played between Northern Inland sides as Demon Knights FC host Premier League newcomers Inverell FC from 1:30PM before the league’s defending champions South Armidale United FC challenge local rivals East Armidale United FC from 3:30PM.

 Moore Creek FC have hit the road as the Mountain Goats get set to take on North Coast Football’s 2023 Men’s Premier League minor premiers Northern Storm at Korora Oval in Coffs Harbour from 3:30PM, while Northern Inland Premier League’s 2023 minor premiers Oxley Vale Attunga host Northern Rivers side Alstonville FC at Gipps Street Field from 4PM.

The preliminary rounds of the nation’s knockout tournament began last weekend as the Northern Inland teams lined up in round two fixtures. South Armidale United travelled to Coffs Harbour last Saturday and scored a 3-2 victory against Coffs City United FC to advance to the next round and Moore Creek hosted Sawtell and Districts FC at Gipps Street Field last Sunday and converted a 1-0 half-time lead into a 3-1 victory to progress to round three. 

Namoi United, South United Lightning FC and Armidale City Westside FC were not as fortunate as they all lost their round two fixtures last Saturday. One of the Northern Inland Premier League’s newest sides Namoi United challenged Westlawn Tigers at Narrabri High School and the combined Narrabri, Wee Waa and Moree outfit went down 4-1. South United travelled to Ayrshire Park in Boambee where they were beaten 5-0 by Boambee FC, while Armidale City Westside were edged out 2-1 by Northern Storm at Korora Oval.

Moore Creek have been training hard for the past five weeks and the club have been pleased with the large turnouts they have been getting at sessions during the pre-season.

The hard work certainly paid off last Saturday when the club scored a 3-1 victory in their Australia Cup clash against Sawtell and Districts to progress to round three.

There was a strong breeze blowing straight down the field at Gipps Street and the hosts had that behind them in the first half. They made the most of it as they went into half-time ahead 1-0 after Ben Schieb came off the bench and scored just after the half-hour mark.

The visitors hit back early in the second stanza to make the score 1-1, but Moore Creek dealt a swift double blow with about 20 minutes remaining when Daniel McCormack found the back of the net and then provided an assist for teammate Noah Brown two minutes later.

The home side held onto that 3-1 lead to book in an away clash against Northern Storm today, a fixture that head coach Andy Cygan is quite excited to be a part of.

“We’ll be playing on an amazing field over there and I reckon that’ll enhance what we can do. We’ll go out firing,” Cygan said.

“I think the Australia Cup is a bit like in England with the FA Cup in that it’s a great opportunity for the lower-ranked sides to have a go. You never know, you might win a few games and draw a Newcastle team.

“I thought we did well (in the match against Sawtell and Districts). I thought Sawtell were pretty good too and it was evenly matched for a lot of the time.

“There were a few things that we wanted to try and that we’d only really tried in training, and I don’t think we really committed to that. I thought we were a bit overwhelmed to start with. But we played four quarters, and I think the breaks at the quarters killed our momentum.”

Cygan said that the Mountain Goats had enjoyed a positive pre-season that had prepared them well for an Australia Cup run and the Northern Inland Premier League campaign that will get underway in April.

“Pre-season has been really good. We’ve got good numbers and some of the young guys we have are just unbelievable. We’re relying on them this year rather than the experience that we’ve relied on before,” he said.

“I’m one of those people that would usually pick experience over youth, but these young guys are so fast and so skilful. It’s really good to watch.”

Demon Knights and Inverell head into their round three Australia Cup match feeling fresh after they both had byes in round two. Their clash today will be their first since they met in the Armidale competition back in 2021, and it will be the first of at least three meetings between the two clubs this year as they are scheduled to play against one another twice during the Northern Inland Premier League season.

Inverell entered the Australia Cup last year and went down 2-1 at home against Woolgoolga United FC in their opening match, and they are hoping to turn that around today.

Coach Damien Schutz is also expecting the match to be a great test to determine where his side are at ahead of the 2024 Northern Inland Premier League season. They held an intra-club trial match last weekend that was attended by former A-League coach Mike Mulvey who was in town for a coaching clinic with the local junior players and offered Schutz some insights into what he thought about the game and their style of play, which was overall quite positive.

“We’ve been going since November here and we’ve got a few new boys in the team this year,” Schutz said.

“It’s a lot faster team than we’ve had the past couple of years. I think speed will be our weapon.

“Andrew Wals is one of our new guys and he’s pretty handy and very controlled in the midfield. He’s from the Solomon Islands. Ryley Schutz, my young fella, is back here too. He’s having his gap year here in Inverell and he’s out on the left wing.

“We’re taking the Cup pretty seriously this year. Last year we went into it a bit underdone fitness-wise. The guys have learned from that and that’s why they’ve been into it since November. If we lose it’s not going to be because of fitness.

“This will be a good benchmark of where we’re at. We know DK finished sixth in the Premier League last year. They’ll be physical and tough, they always are.

“For us it’s also about getting our new players gelling. We’ve got speed and skill. Once we get our communication right, we’ll be there.”

Demon Knights are hoping to go on a Cup run similar to the one they produced back in 2018 when they advanced to round five after knocking off Moree, OVA and Goonellabah before going down 2-0 away from home against Port United.

DK have a new coach this year, with Rob James stepping up to take on the role, and club president Kingsley Chapman said James was having a positive impact at the club.

“He moved to town about a year and a half ago and played with us last year and he’s come on board as coach this year. He’s going great guns and we are getting really good turnouts at training each week with about 35 players each night,” Chapman said.

“We started pre-season earlier this year and we are a lot more professional this year. We have good numbers across firsts and ressies that we’ll be able to push down into the local thirds and fourths as well.

“The guys are itching to go for the Cup. When you’re training for five or six weeks and you’re just focusing on fitness and ball skills, it’s good to get out there on the paddock to play.

“We finished mid-table in the prems last year. Now there’s going to be split Northern and Southern conferences this year, and we’ll be disappointed if we don’t play finals football. That’s the plan.”