Friday night will mark the return of competitive grassroots football in Australia with a double header scheduled to take place at Darwin Football Stadium.
The Northern Territory Men’s Premier League will return with Mindil Aces FC going head to head against Hellenic Athletic Men at 8:35pm (9:05pm AEST) in an amazing night of football which will also see the Women’s Premier League resume as the NT Yapa’s and Hellenic Athletic Women face off prior to the men’s clash.
Spectators will also be able to attend these matches with a crowd of up to 500 people allowed as long as social distancing measures are being observed.
The resumption of football in the Northern Territory for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak has been met with sizeable relief as fans across the country can finally enjoy live football.
The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions across the territory has meant that the two sides have had a fortnight of training to prepare for these landmark fixtures.
Mindil coach Daniel McCormick shared what it was like when his side returned to training for the first time.
“We had nearly another squad appear out of the woodwork, players that had been forced to return to Darwin because they’d lost their jobs interstate and come back,” McCormick told FFA.com.au
I think the excitement was there in the numbers alone. There have been around 40 to 50 senior players at each session I’ve run. It’s been great to be able to get back and the excitement for the game on Friday is evident.”
The return to training proved to be unexpected challenge for the Aces coach as he had to accommodate far more players than expected while still sticking to social distancing requirements.
“You should have seen my face on the first day we arrived because we had all these restrictions, maximum groups of nine, 10 being the coach and then you get 40 something guys show up,” McCormick said.
“But we made it work, it just takes a lot of preparation, a lot of cones and a hell of a lot of bibs, which has been really fun to wash all of them.”
The return to the training pitch has also had its challenges for Hellenic as their coach John Francis opens up on how they have adapted their drills to be in line with the coronavirus measures.
“The challenge for us as coaches has been with the restrictions of keeping the distancing and non-contact,” Francis said.
“We’ve had to be ingenious in coming up with training drills that keep the players occupied and challenged mentally and physically.”
Hellenic is no stranger to the big occasion after they gained nationwide attention when they featured against Western Sydney Wanderers in round 32 of the 2018 FFA Cup.
However, Francis believes that his side are the ‘underdogs’ heading into this tie, given that Mindil were grand finalists in the NT Premier League last season.
The clash is expected to see some of the NT’s most talented players face off against one another with both coaches signalling who to watch out for in their respective sides.
“One of the star players to watch is Priit Proos, our Estonian striker,” McCormick said.
“There’s a good video that went all over social media including to the UK of his overhead bicycle kick last year.
“We’re hoping he can produce something like that again.”
Francis also believes that his side pose a threat throughout the park as he gave a rundown of his team.
“Keep an eye out for Sulav Maskey, a forward, he’ll be playing on the right. Tricky, great skill and he’ll be someone to look out for – he’s one of the star players here in the Territory,” Francis said.
“In midfield, we have Jesse Pinto who actually played for Newcastle Jets at one stage in his career and then at the back we’ve got Dan Bulman, who’s a stalwart here in the Territory.”
Friday night’s matches will act as a considerable boost for all involved in football across the top end, with fans from not only Australia but across Asia expected to tune into the live stream.
“I think it’s just fantastic that the Territory is going to be showcasing what we can do up here,” Francis said.
It’s a privilege and a pleasure that we’re going to be involved in this. We’ll do our best and try not to let anyone down and try to put in a performance that everyone will enjoy.”
Friday 5 June:
Men’s Premier League
Hellenic AC v Mindil Aces
Kick-off 8:30pm local (9pm AEST)
Commentary from Fox Sports’ Simon Hill and analysis from FNT Technical Director and former Hyundai A-League player John Tambouras.
Women’s Premier League
NT Yapas v Hellenic AC
Kick-off 6:30pm local (7pm AEST)
Commentary will feature ABC Darwin broadcaster Shannon Byrne, with special comments from former Socceroo and SBS Chief Football Analyst Craig Foster.
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