By Craig MacKenzie
Championship aspirants Casey Comets and Mornington slug it out on Friday night at Comets Stadium in a blockbuster opening to the 2017 league season.
And peninsula football fans won’t have to wait long for another mouth-watering derby as the following day Baxter and Rosebud Heart lock horns at Baxter Park.
Comets and Mornington have made significant changes in personnel during the off-season and the visitors fancy their chances of a State 1 South-East title threepeat after bringing in 11 new players to the first team squad.
Both camps are keen to get off to a flyer in a season where the championship winner is offered a place in the second tier of the elite NPL competition for 2018.
At the heart of Mornington’s defence is the much lauded duo of Simon Webster and Steve Elliott and their Casey counterparts are Nemanja Lojanica and former Langwarrin captain Alex van Heerwarden.
Mornington captain Webster and Wayne Gordon are carrying injuries and what impact this has on their performance remains to be seen.
Webster has a glute injury and it is believed that Gordon has been playing with a hernia.
The transfer coup of the season has been Ryan Paczkowski’s return to Dallas Brooks Park after a successful stint with NPL heavyweight Bentleigh Greens and “Patch” and van Heerwarden have a history so you can expect fireworks from their match-up.
Mornington import Matthew Wade has returned to England to attend a wedding but is expected to return for the club’s round two league clash.
Comets coach Jamie Skelly paired Ryan Hughes with Canadian import Allando Matheson in last weekend’s FFA Cup tie and is expected to again use this combination on Friday night.
Hughes had a brief flirtation with State 1 rival St Kilda during the off-season but was welcomed back into the Comets’ fold a fortnight back.
Comets are hosting a pre-game function at 7pm featuring coaches and players from both teams and a special guest speaker.
Tickets are $35 each and include finger food, beer, wine, soft drink and game entry. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a booking.
Local fans have been talking about Saturday’s derby dustup at Baxter Park since the league fixtures were released and they seem certain to be in for a treat.
Both clubs won promotion in 2016 with Heart winning every league game of an historic season and the visitors go into this clash having won three of four derby meetings against Roy Kilner’s men.
Baxter’s Mark Pagliarulo is expected to overcome a calf problem but his striking partner Liam Kilner received a bodyblow last week when ruled out for the season due to a bulging disc in his lower back.
Pagliarulo will be partnered in attack by teenager Travis Ernsdoerfer from Bentleigh Greens who signed last week along with former Endeavour Hills midfielder Liam Tinsley.
Baxter is trying to complete the signing of young midfielder Jack Gallagher from Kingston City in time for Saturday’s league opener.
The ace up Heart’s sleeve could be Italian midfielder Marco Cannella.
Heart is waiting for his international clearance and if it comes through in time the ASD Pro Appio star will be thrust straight into the fray on Saturday.
An excellent work rate and good distribution are hallmarks of his game and the coaching staff have been impressed in the four weeks in which he’s trained with the club.
“I’m really excited about him and I think he could turn into a fantastic pick-up for us,” said Heart gaffer Scott Morrison.
Peninsula Strikers embark on their promotion campaign when they clash with Eltham Redbacks at Centenary Park on Saturday.
Boosting the senior squad with three imports in Italian midfielder Leandro Parrella, Swiss central defender Raphael Stulz and English midfielder Danny Brooks was a statement of intent and when Strikers were able to prise gun predator Aziz Bayeh from Doveton’s grasp the club had made its promotion ambitions clear.
But this is a tricky first-up assignment for Craig Lewis’ men as there is no doubt that Eltham senior coach Paul Harris will field an organised and competitive outfit.
The Redbacks won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015 and won promotion last year by finishing a point behind champion Mazenod in State 3 South-East.
Saturday is an historic day for Somerville Eagles as they make their State 5 South debut against Old Mentonians at Somerville Secondary College.
“I spent two seasons with Heart so I know a fair bit about the sides in State 5 and Old Mentonians are well drilled and resilient and will make it tough for us,” said Eagles coach Neil Herd.
“I’d still like to add a midfielder and a striker to the squad and we’re continuing to look for those types of players.”
Langwarrin’s league campaign starts without highly rated central defender and former Macclesfield Town youth team captain Kieron Kenny who has returned to England for family reasons.
Kenny is likely to miss two league games but is expected to return along with another central defensive recruit that he recommended to the Lawton Park outfit.
Langy has a Saturday night assignment away to Mooroolbark and its defensive capabilities will be further tested by the absence of veteran Boris Ovcin who has a carryover suspension from last season.
Langwarrin was completely overrun by NPL heavyweight Hume City last weekend and the trip to Mooroolbark will test Gus Macleod’s men.
Langy has made its championship aspirations public and has added 10 new players to its first team squad so expectations of success are high.
Frankston Pines have been rocked by news that recruits Christopher L’Enclume and Cedric Permal are sidelined after their Mauritian clubs refused to authorise their international clearances and lodged protests with FIFA.
It’s believed that FFA is representing Pines in this matter and the club has asked the national body if it can authorise provisional clearances until the standoff is resolved.
Both Pines and Seaford United have difficult away matches on Saturday to open the State 2 South-East season with Pines going up against title aspirant Mazenod under lights at Knox Regional Centre while Seaford travels to Anderson Park in the afternoon to face Doncaster Rovers.
Skye United’s round 1 away clash with Sandringham next weekend in State 3 South-East has been cancelled due to ground availability issues.
FFV has tentatively rescheduled the game for Saturday 15 April but the clubs remain in discussion about an agreed date.
Here are the local senior squads for 2017 with the previous club of new signings in brackets:
GOALKEEPERS: Francis Beck, Daniel D’Alfonso. DEFENDERS: Heath Goss, Frank N’tim, Markus Oliphant, Jake Kidder, Matthew Owens, Daniel Sharratt. MIDFIELDERS: Ben Meiklem (Peninsula Strikers), Liam Tinsley (Endeavour Hills Fire), Daniel Disseldorp, Owen Kilner, Billy Liapis, Paul Swann. FORWARDS: Mark Pagliarulo, Travis Ernsdoerfer (Bentleigh Greens) Louis Griffiths, Shaun Walker, Brendan Norris, Liam Kilner (injured).
GOALKEEPERS: Faraz Zenoozi, Orwin Castel (Endeavour Hills Fire). DEFENDERS: Elliot Capel, Nemanja Lojanica, Alex van Heerwaarden (Langwarrin), Jesse Martindale, Matt Smith. MIDFIELDERS: Junsoo Park, Ray Markley, Adam Dunsford, Dejan Radojicic (Berwick City). FORWARDS: Liam Ryan, CJ Hodgson (Frankston Pines), Andy Stubley, Ryan Hughes, Marce Janneker, Grady Vickers, Allando Matheson (Master’s FA Saints, Canada).
GOALKEEPERS: Alfonso Cardinale (Noble Park), Josh Permal (Doveton), Giang Pham (Melbourne Falcons). DEFENDERS: Ben Caffrey, Luke Murray, Graham Hill, Brendan Maokhamphiou (Sandringham), Christopher Morel (Springvale White Eagles), Denis Pauguy, Cedric Permal (Cercle de Joachim, Mauritius), Heip Tran (Keysborough), James Woodland. MIDFIELDERS: Francois Armansin (Casey Comets), Kai Bahrami, Josh Berrisford (Modbury Jets, SA), Matty Davis, Ben Millward (Peninsula Strikers), Gilbert Palmire (Springvale City). FORWARDS: Sebastian Gueho (Chelsea), Christopher L’Enclume (AS Rivière du Rempart, Mauritius), Munib Mohamed (Swinburne), David Ofuho (Cleeland Utd).
GOALKEEPERS: Robert Acs, James Foster. DEFENDERS: Boris Ovcin, Andy McIntyre, Stephen Dick (Musselburgh Youngstars, Scotland), Kieron Kenny (Congleton Town, England), Kurt Wagner-Goldsworthy, Dylan Kilner, Johnny Guthrie, Callum Khaiyath. MIDFIELDERS: Lewis Foster (Dandenong City), Brandon Giles, Mat Luak (Morwell Pegasus), Sergio Yanez (Berwick City), Paul Speed (AFC Liverpool, England), Nick Thorogood. FORWARDS: Alex Metcalfe (Doncaster Rovers), Aaran Currie (Moreland City), Connor Belger (AFC Liverpool, England), Nabil Mozaffaruddin, Caleb Nicholes, Ahmad Suleiman (Hampton Park United).
GOALKEEPERS: Kris McEvoy, James Laminski (Frankston Pines). DEFENDERS: Danny Black, Nathan Yole, Stefan Soler (Frankston Pines), Stevie Elliott, Simon Webster, Josh Valadon (Knox City), Jack Truelove (Curzon Ashton, England) Chris McKenna, Nico Georgopoulos (Kingston City). MIDFIELDERS: Scott Millar, Andy Skledar, Craig Smart, Chris Reid, Matthew Wade (Blyth Spartans, England), Aaron Root (Manningham Utd). FORWARDS: Wayne Gordon, Nathan Smith (Brigg Town, England) Michael Freeman, Ryan Paczkowski (Bentleigh Greens), Gino Defeo (Doncaster Rovers), Simon Mur (CB Hounslow United, England).
GOALKEEPERS: Colin McCormack (Langwarrin). DEFENDERS: Raphael Stulz (AFC Ann Arbor, USA), Scott Buchannan, Troy Williams , Conor Keely, Isaak Barr, John Watson, Sajnesh Sugrim (Morwell Pegasus), Mohammed Khan (Frankston Pines), Aisake Tikoilabasaice, Conor Tzelios. MIDFIELDERS: Leandro Parrella (Domegliara, Italy), Danny Brooks (Wrexham, Wales), Grant Davies, Tom Hawkins, Jack Carter, Adrian Pace, Joe Buccello. FORWARDS: Aziz Bayeh (Doveton), Alex Hopson, Trevor Johnston, Michael Turner (Langwarrin), Matt Morris Thomas.
GOALKEEPERS: Sean Skelly, Brad Klarenbeek. DEFENDERS: Chris Sibson (Seaford United), Matthew Pearce, Carlo Cardoso, Beau Sharpe, Ryan Monk. MIDFIELDERS: Daniel Hodge, Adam Poole, Will O’Brien (Swaffham Town FC), Callum Richardson (Peninsula Strikers), Cory Osorio, Marco Cannella (ASD Pro Appio, Italy), Alan Lipsett. FORWARDS: Dave Greening, Blake Hicks, Zach Karolidis, Simon O’Donnell (injured).
GOALKEEPERS: Enes Umal (Box Hill), Harrison Burgess, Patrick Bretherton. DEFENDERS: Tristan Stass, Cameron Syratt, Jason Allizi, Amir Music (Springvale City), Nick Ormond, Adam Martin. MIDFIELDERS: Josh Tsung, Daniel Mota (Sandringham), Tom Natoli (Brighton), Paul McGuire, Franco Melatti (Brighton), Daniel Walsh, Dean Snoxel. FOWARDS: Dylan Waugh, Alex Roberts (Skye Utd), Mitchell Lander, Li Nam Wang.
GOALKEEPERS: Toby Lawson, Travis Salmon. DEFENDERS: Joel Wade, Michael Easton (Churchill Rams), Kevin McCormack, Jordan Lunt, Christopher Hale (Skye Utd), Matt Swanson. MIDFIELDERS: Mark Woods, Paul Walker (Kangaroo Point Rovers, Queensland), Jarryd Lymer, Damien Finnegan (Middle Park), Bjorn Kutschera, Adam Gordon, Brett Young (Mornington). FORWARDS: David Hughes, Micah Keecher (Frankston Pines), Liam Morgan.
GOALKEEPERS: Jonathon Crook, Lee Heron. DEFENDERS: David Cori, Johnny Andrinopolous (Mazenod), Billy Painting, Mohamad Elhassan, Daniel Utting, Sean Ellicott, Robert Schreurs. MIDFIELDERS: Marcus Collier, Mark O’Connor, Michael Putson, Jason Nowakowski (Endeavour Utd), Khor Gatluak (Sandown Lions), Liam Attard, Edward Bourke, Lachlan Campbell. FORWARDS: Daniel Attard, Nick Theodore, Wumjock Jock (Sandown Lions).
Last weekend’s local FFA Cup results:
Mornington 1 Morwell Pegasus 2, Langwarrin 0 Hume City 8, Casey Comets 0 Nunawading 4.
Last weekend’s local practice match results:
Frankston Pines 2 Riversdale 2, Peninsula Strikers 2 Monash City 0, Baxter 4 Lyndale Utd 0.
This weekend’s games:
FRIDAY, 8.30pm: Casey Comets v Mornington (Comets Stadium).
SATURDAY, 3pm: Peninsula Strikers v Eltham Redbacks (Centenary Park), Doncaster Rovers v Seaford Utd (Anderson Park), Baxter v Rosebud Heart (Baxter Park), Somerville v Old Mentonians (Somerville Secondary College).
SATURDAY, 8pm: Mooroolbark v Langwarrin (Esther Park), Mazenod v Frankston Pines (Knox Regional Centre, pitch 1).