Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Demon Days - update

All good things must come to an end, of course, and this year's NSW Premier League comes to an end this Sunday at Parramatta Stadium, with the Bonnyrigg White Eagles facing Blacktown City in the grand final.

Blacktown's recovery this season from their grim 2008 and 2009 campaigns has been very impressive, and much of the credit must go, once again, to Aytek Genc. The irascible former Socceroo, who had a brief spell in the assistant's chair at Sydney FC and an utterly disastrous period as manager of Sydney Olympic, has reached three NSWPL grand finals in his last three years with Blacktown, without any real star players at his disposal.

Tolgay Ozbey, another to have sampled the unique joys of life at Belmore, has looked a far more complete player this season. He has scored plenty of goals, as expected, but his all-round play appears to have improved considerably; no longer requiring six touches of the ball to make an impact, he seems much better primed for the professional game now.

There have been other discoveries at Blacktown, not least the surprisingly prolific and effective young winger Joel Chianese, and Bernie Ibini, whose fine touch and prodigious vision make him one to watch. Old stagers like Kain Rastall, Mirko Jurilj and Ante Deur have played their part as well, providing some solidity that was lacking in Blacktown's callow performances last term.

Bonnyrigg, for their part, were always expected to reach the final this season. The murmurings about their summer spending spree became ever louder as they continued to acquire some prize pickings as the season progressed; Nathan Elasi and Chris Tadrosse, two players with A-League experience, were among those who headed for the Serbian Centre in the midst of the campaign.

But a team of stars does not automatically equal a successful team, and ex-Sutherland boss Brian Brown did well to make the group mesh after an awkward beginning. Brad Boardman, a real leader of the line, formed a good partnership with Elasi towards the back end of the season, while the left foot of Daniel Severino could always be relied upon to cause problems at free kicks and corners.

Jamie McMaster and Shane Webb, among others, offered grit and penetration from midfield, and although the defence had some shaky moments (largely thanks to a significant weak link in Paul Cotte), they managed to keep the goals against tally down, even after the stomach-churning mid-season injury to first-choice keeper Phil Zabaks. And Bonnyrigg had a breakthrough youngster as well, in the lively left-winger David Gullo.

Blacktown thumped Bonnyrigg 4-0 in the second week of the finals series only two weeks ago, and that result above all else should give Genc's side the psychological edge going into the match. It could be the game in which Ozbey finally produces a five-star performance in a prestige encounter: probably the player of the season, he has the pace and audacity to trouble Bonnyrigg's less-than-formidable defence. But in 2006, he was expected to do the same, and instead he was snuffed out with little trouble, Luka Glavas making all the headlines at the other end.

Come one, come all. Parramatta Stadium (a much better choice for the showpiece than distant CUA Stadium, incidentally), 3 p.m. on Sunday. It should be a beauty.

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