APIA Leichhardt Tigers will be hoping third time is a charm as they enter the 2019 NPL NSW Men’s season determined to make up for last season’s heartbreaking grand final defeat.
The 2018 decider had a painful sense of Deja vu for APIA as they were stunned in the Championship game for the second straight year going down 3-1 to Sydney Olympic at Leichhardt Oval
While a large nucleus of the side which has led the Tigers to the past two grand finals return for their upcoming campaign, the Lambert Park based side will have some fresh faces as well as a new man at the helm.
Last season’s assistant coach John Calleja will step up into the head coach role for 2019 and six weeks into their preseason regime he is starting to feel at home in the top job.
“It’s been a smooth progression for me moving into the head coach role. The fact I’ve been involved with this team for the past few years has certainly made it easier for both me and the players,” Calleja said.
“There is always pressure, especially at a club like APIA. But most importantly I think we set the pressure ourselves by aiming to achieve everything we can.
“We didn’t achieve what we wanted to last year. Two years in a row not being able to win on grand final day hurts but we need to turn that disappointment into motivation to drive us towards a better result this time around.”
One big challenge facing Calleja this season will be how he manages with a thinner squad and the departure of two star players.
Jordan Murray’s success at APIA proved to be bitter sweet for the NPL club.
A-League side Central Coast Mariners snapped up their young record breaking striker at the end of last season after he propelled the Tigers with his incredible goalscoring feats.
Another big loss is that of Japanese striker and 2018 NPL NSW Men’s Player of the Year winner Tasuku Sekiya who said goodbye after three seasons at Lambert Park at the conclusion of the 2018 campaign signing on with NPL Victorian top tier outfit Avondale FC.
Talented defender Nathan Millgate has also moved on.
APIA hasn’t wasted any time in beefing up their squad bringing in veteran striker Chris Payne, 2018 breakout player Michael Kouta and former NPL NSW Men’s premiership winning midfielder Tynan Diaz.
“Losing Jordy (Murray) and Tasuku (Sekiya) would be big losses for any team but I’m confident the players we have brought in, combined with our great team chemistry, can help us maintain the standards we have set over the past two seasons,” Calleja said.
“With Chris Payne coming into the squad I think we have signed one of the few players in the competition who can help us maintain the goals output of last season. He will have talented players around him providing him with more than his fair share of opportunities to score.
“I think with some of the players we have brought in combined with the squad we have been building over the past few seasons has us in very good stead.”
One player APIA and NPL NSW fans are sure to be familiar with is Franco Parisi with Calleja leaning on the veteran midfield maestro to pull the strings from his preferred number 10 role this year.
“Franco to me is the heart and sole of APIA for me,” he said.
“He has been absolutely buzzing at training and I think with the spot opening up on the pitch following the departure of Tasuku that Franco has pushed himself even harder to set the perfect example for the rest of the boys.
“We know he has the skill and going by his training it appears he has the legs. Obviously the stresses of a full season could be a different story but I have full faith in Franco to have yet another stellar year and play a big part in what should be a successful season.
The Symons brothers, captain Sean a former NPL NSW Men’s Player of the Year and Josh will also be pumping their chargers for a huge season ahead.
APIA open the regular season against rivals Marconi Stallions at Lambert Park on March 10.
Key player movements
Incoming: Michael Kouta (Hakoah Sydney City East), Chris Payne (Sydney United 58), Tyana Diaz (Bonnyrigg White Eagles).
Departures: Nathan Millgate (Marconi Stallions), Tasuku Sekiya (TBA), Jordan Murray (Central Coast Mariners)
-By Nick Houghton