Despite only an unfulfilling two A-League matches being played over the course of the weekend, there were continued signs that the 2020-21 season could well be something of a resurgence for the competition.
There is something new, different and fresh about things, even though the actual amount of football being played thanks to border restrictions and half the competition being based in New South Wales, is disappointing.
On one level, it would be easy to cite the limited matches and opportunities to view them as potential reasons for thirsty fans, their enthusiasm and the dynamic start to the season.
However, it is more likely that there are a variety of factors working in unison to generate the added and tangible fervour currently being exhibited around the A-League.
After years of crying for expansion, advocates of it can now boast via the proof of the pudding. Both Western United in their inaugural season and debutantes Macarthur FC have already brought much to the league.
Their presence is interesting and exciting with the competitiveness both clubs have shown on the pitch vital to generating such emotion.
A few spoilsports complained about the cow bells distributed to and used by Macarthur fans on Saturday afternoon when the Bulls clawed back a deficit against an unlucky ten man Wellington Phoenix.
Personally, I thought the sound the bells created was brilliant, quirky and typically A-League. Others did not and on online social media poll appeared to be running two to one in favour of eliminating them.
Killjoys, I say. Those no votes were undoubtedly cast by people who are simply no fun at parties.
Another group of party poopers had others in fear for the quality of the competition after the mass departures of a significant number of talented foreigners.
Yet after three weeks of play, the new arrivals look equally as exciting and potentially even more so.
Wellington’s Tomer Hemed showed flashes of his immense talent against the Bulls and his connection with Mexican Ulises Davila is potentially championship winning.
Macarthur can celebrate too, with Englishman Matt Derbyshire already proving to be a handful for opposition defences and in Benat Extebarria, the new club has a mid-fielder capable of competing for a Johnny Warren Medal.
Callum McManaman showed in one brilliant moment exactly what Victory fans have to look forward to in 2021 and Scotsman Graham Dorrans found his mojo during the Wanderers’ 2-1 win against the Jets.
Brisbane Roar’s Japanese signing Riku Danzaki has already taken a liking to the sunshine state and compatriot Naoki Tsubaki will soon force his way into the Melbourne City starting side; sent to Australia to develop his prodigious talent and potential.
Central Coast Mariners may top the lead at the time of writing, yet are still to unleash three quality imports and Western Sydney’s latest acquisition Jordan Mutch arrives in Australia with a quality CV.
Throw in a return to Sydney FC for Brazilian Bobo and it would be fair to suggest that while many of the foreign signings may have come late, the quality of them is beyond question.
Along with the returns of Mark Milligan, Bernie Ibini, Adam Federici, Aiden O’Neill, Oliver Bozanic, Ben Folami and Tomi Juric, the fresh arrivals appear to have given the competition a much needed shot in the arm.
From a domestic perspective, the extra opportunities afforded young Australians and Kiwis has already added a layer of interest and excitement rarely seen in the A-League in recent seasons.
At just 19, Sydney FC’s Calem Nieuwenhof looks one of the most gifted youngsters the competition has seen for some time and Macarthur’s Lachlan Rose’s emergence from NPL 2 play to top flight action has been inspiring.
22-year-old James McGarry looks a capable replacement for Liberato Cacace in Wellington, Josh Nisbet has been near best on pitch in the Mariner’s pair of opening wins and team mate Alou Kuol scored his first A-League goal in their derby win against Newcastle at just 19 years of age.
The Jet’s Angus Thurgate will seek a break out season in the Hunter as one of the most skilful and talented young Aussies in the country and at just 17, Yaya Dukuly will have his big dreams and aspirations come to a competitive reality in Adelaide.
Combined, all of the above has made for a terrific start to a season that many critics had death knelled after the lowering of the salary cap and the array of talent that left Australian shores.
In reality, the injection of new clubs, youth, as well as keen and talented foreign players has kicked the league off in style. So much so that fans are hungry for more play, given the postponements that have littered the opening three weeks.
And as if on cue, this Saturday hosts a Sydney Derby between two sides believing they will be playing finals’ football come season’s end. It should be gripping and will hopefully add to the number of people taking notice of an A-League that does suddenly appear to look very healthy.