In July I spoke with Ben Sigmund about defending in the A-League.
The passion and vibrancy of derbies. The stoppage-time equalisers. The phenomenal comebacks and the raw emotion of 90 minutes. People, the A-League is back with a bang, and oh how we’ve missed it.
It seemed like an eternity waiting for season 2016/17 to commence, but none could have imagined such a start.
Off the back of an intriguing marketing campaign emphasising that “You’ve gotta have a team!”, the A-League has had arguably one of its greatest starts to a season.
With attendance records smashed and high TV viewing audiences tuning in, fans may once again approach a season with greater optimism in the hope of the game once again moving in the right direction and potentially attracting genuine interest for a new TV deal.
Throughout the course of the season, I’ll aim to bring you five talking points from each round in an effort to discuss and capture the drama, emotion and thoughts the A-League creates on a regular basis.
So let’s get started with five talking points from Round 1:
1. The Sydney derby
Who would have thought a domestic football match in Australia would ever attract a crowd of 61,880?
If you’re a true believer, you know the sky is the limit and anything is possible, and for many, it was a night that saw the coming of age for football – or, more specifically, the A-League – in Australia.
The Sydney derby has become an event like no other. With each match that passes, the passion grows, rivalry intensifies and it continues to evolve into a can’t miss event.
In the 13th instalment between the Wanderers and Sydney FC, the footballing public was in full voice to show just how far the sport has come in such a short time.
What’s even more impressive is the numbers the record crowd stacks up against. Earlier this year, a crowd of 61,267 turned up for State Origin III at ANZ Stadium, while the Sydney Swans and GWS Giants played in front of 60,222 in an AFL final.
If this derby had been a final, you could almost guarantee it would have sold out to rival the showcase event in Sydney which is the annual NRL grand final.
2. Never say die Brisbane Roar
Time and time again, Brisbane Roar show you can never count them out.
Roar fans can reminisce aplenty with fond memories. Like the time Erik Paartalu dragged it out of the fire in impossible fashion against the Mariners in the grand final or when Sayed Mohamed Adan surprised us with a stunning free kick to take the points from Sydney FC.
Or what about last year when “Besart back in Brisbane” wasn’t enough for Victory, as Thomas Broich had the final say.
Despite all of the off-field issues surrounding the club with ownership, the playing group never fails to deliver.
In the lead-up to the season opener, Roar striker Jamie McClaren showed what playing for the Roar means when he took it upon himself to engage with disgruntled Roar fans who were fed up with all the off-field issues.
His commitment to the fans was the personification of what it means to play for the Roar.
The playing group never gives up on the fans and they want the support. They feed off it. Maybe the never say die attitude of the players will hopefully entice more supporters to not give up, but perhaps attend and support a team that deserves supporting.
3. Are City the real deal?
It was far from convincing, but Melbourne City managed just their second season-opening win, while for the first time keeping a clean sheet to get the ball rolling.
With one of the strongest squads assembled in the A-League and enormous hype surrounding Tim Cahill’s arrival, the pressure has never been higher for the club to deliver its first piece of silverware.
In un-City like fashion, they managed to keep a determined Phoenix at bay in windy Wellington as they battled the hard conditions with only ten men for more than a third of the match.
In the past, City would have been unable to clinch victory and their defence would have faltered, but perhaps this was a turning of the page for the Manchester City-owned club?
Only time will tell, but once international duties are complete, expect the pressure only to grow as Tim Cahill returns to help do what he does best; score goals and aim high in order to help deliver the gold.
4. Woeful Wanderers or horrible starters?
Wanderers coach Tony Popovic will hope for the latter as history has shown that, despite never winning an opening round match in their history, it’s not how you start the race, but how you finish it.
With another clean-out of players during the off-season (something which Popa is known for), can the team jell quickly enough to bounce back and fight for the prize that continues to elude them?
With Asian Champions League commitments and history not on their side, it would appear unlikely the Wanderers will challenge for this A-League title.
To do so would once again go against the grain of what we’re used to, but if any coach can get his troops to do it, it’s Popovic.
But with an opening-round loss to rivals Sydney FC and a previous 4-1 loss to City in the FFA Cup, signs suggest Western Sydney could be in for one long season.
5. What a comeback!
There is no sugar-coating it, Mariners were dreadful last season.
With one of the worst seasons in the competition’s history, they would have been wanting to move forward and leave last season behind them, but after the first 45 minutes against the Glory, it looked like we were set for a carbon copy. But then one of the greatest comebacks occurred.
For Perth, the result was as good as a loss and a wasted opportunity to make clear their intentions to vie for the top prize, but for Mariners and their fans, it was the fightback that was needed to show they won’t be pushovers this season.
They may not be a title threat this season, but give coach Paul Okon time and a chance at assembling his own squad, and the Mariners could once again bring joy to the Central Coast.
If the performance wasn’t convincing, just listen to the belief and conviction he speaks.
Next round the momentum continues as we see the grand final rematch between Adelaide United and Western Sydney Wanderers, the Melbourne derby with the potential debut of Tim Cahill and the chance to get a better look at who’ll be our title contenders and title pretenders.
Look forward to next week to check out the Top Five talking points of Round 2.