Connection spurring latest FFA Cup giant-killing dream
DRAWING an A-League team in the FFA Cup is always an exciting prospect for NPL clubs - but for Bonnyrigg White Eagles defender, Sam Gallaway, Wednesday's clash with Western Sydney Wanderers has a personal meaning.
It will be the first time he has played against his former club since leaving the professional ranks in 2015.
"I only played half a season for the Wanderers, but had some good times. It was just after they won the Asian Champions League - the first club to do so. Good memories for me, and I'm looking forward to playing against them again." says Gallaway.
"I guess it's a little bit special for me - I'm still friends with a few of the boys, Brendan Hamill in particular. We've already had some banter, I've sent him a few text messages. But obviously it's a big game for us, we haven't had the best season at Bonnyrigg. We want to repay the club and bring some positivity back." he adds.
To say Bonnyrigg haven't had the best season is something of an understatement. More accustomed to being regular challengers for silverware, the club from the Serbian community (originally known as Avala), finished second last in the NPL New South Wales in 2018, and face relegation - which has come as something of a shock.
"It's been a surprise to us all. We had a lot of depth at the start of the season, but lost a lot of players through injuries and departures. We had a bad start, and it didn't get much better. We won some games towards the end of the season but it was too late.
With the Club Championship system in operation, we just couldn't get the points we needed." laments Gallaway, who isn't a fan of the system which aggregates results from senior and junior level.
"It's a bit harsh to be honest - I don't particularly like it. I hear they are changing it again next season. For me, the team that comes last should get relegated - that makes more sense, but it is what it is." says Gallaway.
Bonnyrigg will regroup next season under a new coach - former Socceroo, Milan Blagojevic, who has been taking training sessions after the departure of the long-serving Brian Brown. But it is former A-League winner, Milan Susak (who will serve as Blagojevic's assistant), who will be on the bench against the Wanderers - and Gallaway believes they have a chance of springing a surprise.
"I think (to beat an A-League team) is every NPL club's dream - there are only seven that have done it, so it is pretty big when it happens. The media pumps it up when they win. It's good for football in Australia. It's also an opportunity for some of the guys in our league who do well and don't get looked at - the Cup is an awesome thing, and we'd love to beat the Wanderers and push on to the next round."
Gallaway still harbours hopes of resuming his A-League career at some point - but at 26, he is realistic.
"To be honest, I've been out for a while now - I have finished my university degree, started a full time job, and been there for three years. It's a long time since I was a pro - obviously I hope I might go back one day, but for now, I'm happy where I'm at," he says.
There are other Bonnyrigg players looking to make an impact - Gallaway's fellow former A-League player, David Vrankovic, Futsalroo Shervin Adeli, plus the two Korean imports, Woo Je-Wook and Gil Mun-Soo, who are both looking to pick up where Japan's Tasuku Sekiya left off for APIA Leichhardt last week.
"Obviously it's an A-League team - finding a weakness is tough, they are professional, and train full-time. We are part time, we work, and train three nights a week, so there is a big difference. But we can compete - other teams have done it, so I don't see why we can't win. We just want to show Australia what Bonnyrigg is capable of." says Gallaway.
Bonnyrigg are hoping for a crowd of around 6000 at Marconi Stadium on Wednesday.