Knocking up an A-League draw with the Wellington Phoenix based in Wollongong and the obvious challenges of still lingering COVID-19 is a tough ask.
To its credit, FFA has nailed it.
After the most logistically difficult year that Australia has ever seen, wise minds gathered to construct the draw in the hope that fans would be back, Macarthur FC ready to make an immediate impact and Christmas cheer set to ignite the A-League passion that idled for much of 2020.
The document is a pleasure to read, with games played on most days over the Christmas period and plenty of mid-week clashes throughout the competition. The design sees the season climax far more briskly than usual, with just six months required to identify and crown a champion.
Previously, A-League seasons had run somewhere near seven and a half months.
This shorter version will be frantic, physically taxing and one likely to produce frequent upsets and surprises.
Depth will be tested weekly and the expertise of medical staff in assisting recovery time could be as important as it has ever been before.
No doubt high on the agenda of those charged with producing the draw was a clear intention to start with a bang. Personally, as an A-League enthusiast, I’d describe it as more of a kaboom. Frankly, week one of A-League play should be huge.
Slating the new boys Macarthur FC on opening night is apt. They take on the Wanderers at Bankwest Stadium in what will become a hotly contested and tribal derby in the coming years.
It is highly likely that Ante Milicic’s squad will take a little while to gel into a cohesive unit. Yet with Mark Milligan, Adam Federici, Denis Genreau, James Meredith, Ivan Franjic, Tommy Oar, exciting foreigners and a sprinkling of experienced A-League regulars, Macarthur FC will be far from hopeless.
Western United tackle Adelaide United in Geelong the following evening, before Brisbane Roar take their first permanent visit to Dolphin Stadium when they meet Wellington Phoenix on Tuesday the 29th.
Both were huge improvers last season and finished in the top four after home and away play. Dolphin should be trembling under the weight of orange for the opener and could well become a twelfth man for the Roar, with the atmosphere created palpable, fervent and clearly audible to the rest of us soaking up the Fox Sports broadcast.
When the big guns take to the pitch on Wednesday the 30th, all the talk will be around the 2019-20 grand final; the controversy, the tightness of the contest and the seemingly deeper Melbourne City squad that must surely start as favourites for the championship.
Ex-Burnley man Aiden O’Neill and Socceroo Andrew Nabbout have been added to Patrick Kisnorbo’s squad. The immensely talented Marco Tilio also signs on for the Citizens and Ange Postecoglou’s Yokohama F. Marinos has loaned out left sided attacking player Naoki Tsubaki.
Sydney will once again be formidable, despite the fact that a replacement for Adam le Fondre has yet to be found. Word on the street is that a lowered salary cap is hampering the Sky Blues’ efforts to locate and lure their key man up top.
Something tells me the suits in the harbour city will not take too long to find someone able to compliment Kosta Barbarouses, Trent Buhagiar, Milos Ninkovic and Alex Baumjohann in attack. Should they do so, Sydney will once again prove a leading contender in 2021.
Hopefully, by the time Thursday night rolls around, the football will have engaged and New Year’s festivities be in full swing. The opening to the season will culminate that evening when Central Coast Stadium hosts another edition of the F3/M1 Derby.
There will be plenty at stake for two sides tipped by many to struggle this season. Both playing lists do look like they need something of a boost, yet the passion in these traditional clashes should set any of those concerns aside for 90 minutes and the pre-season form of both clubs has looked positive.
FFA has presented a mouth-watering start to the season where fans will see a debut, a trio of derbies and Brisbane, Western United and Wellington; three teams that played finals football just a few months back.
Needless to say, I am ready and keen to bring you a live blog of the season opener when the Wanderers and Bulls do battle next Sunday.
Hopefully, it lives up to its billing and our A-League competition bounces back in style after all the weirdness and fear of 2020.