Heidelberg's heroes inspire FFA Cup push

With names like Jimmy Rooney, Charlie Yankos, Jeff Olver, Milan Blagojevic and Gary Cole former NSL heavy weights Heidelberg United was once a production line for the Socceroos.

Founded in 1958, Heidelberg will take on Broadmeadow Magic in the FFA Cup round of 32 tonight.

And as the club prepares to retake the national stage, head coach and former player, George Katsakis, is keen to emphasise its unique record.

Catching the return flight to the national stage

“Everybody forgets that there is only ever been one national league team in this country that had nine players representing the Australian team at one time, and that was Heidelberg,” Katsakis said.

“It’s never been done before, probably will never be done again. That is a record in itself that we hold that benchmark and Heidelberg will always hang their hat on that. It’s probably one of the strongest clubs ever in the history of this country.

“Being up there at the moment, and having the exposure we have being up against the A-League clubs, will definitely send our name back up there.

“I think that if we can get through the first phase of this Cup and we are definitely putting this club back on the map.

Katsakis who also played for the club is coming up to coaching his 200th senior game for Heidelberg.

An honest and forthright account of last season’s inaugural FFA Cup showed that the club did not take the competition as seriously as other teams.

But they will be looking to arrest last season’s poor performance this time around.

“Like most other clubs we weren’t aware of how the whole system was to work,” Katsakis said.

“We didn’t take a negative approach, but more of a substandard approach to the Dockerty Cup here in Melbourne, not knowing that the last four teams of the Dockerty Cup were to qualify for the FFA cup.

“So we definitely set ourselves the target this year and made every attempt to give ourselves every opportunity and play a strengthened team in the Dockerty Cup.

“We wanted to progress and get to the last four to give us the opportunity to play in the last 32 of the FFA Cup.”

Many believe the Victoria NPL is the strongest State competition in the country, but even with this in mind Katsakis is not taking the challenge from the Northern NSW NPL representative lightly.

“I don’t think anyone can be favourites at this stage.” he said, “not knowing your opposition, not knowing exactly what thoughts they’re putting into it.

“We’ve done a bit of homework. We know there’s a bit of quality in their squad. We know they’re very hard to beat at their home. They’ve obviously been amongst the leaders for the last three or four years in their league.

 “We’ve got some footage on how they play. We expect to go there and have a really tough game.

“Some clubs put all their efforts at the FFA Cup and forget about the league. With us, we’re in a predicament where we’re one place away from the top of the league with a game in hand.

“We made the Dockerty Cup semi-final and we’re in the last 32 of the FFA Cup so we’ve had quite a lot happening.  We have to be able to manage our players at this point to make sure we stay fresh, or as fresh as possible going into all these games.”

Heidelberg has a mix of players with A-League and European experience – players like Steven Pace, Daniel Vaselvski and Andreas Govas. Katsakis pointed out that the Berger’s attacking duo will be sure to cause the Magic problems.

“The two main men at the moment that everyone is talking about – Daniel Heffernan and Kane Shepard – those two together are forming one of the strongest attacking duos in the whole country at the moment. Everyone is talking about them. They’re definitely among the strongest weapons we have going forward,” he said.

The FFA Cup shines a spotlight on teams and players in the lower tiers of Australian football and for some it’s an important game for any player with A-League aspirations, but former Portsmouth youth player Andreas Govas sees it differently.

“There is a lot of excitement around the FFA Cup especially after last season where teams like Springvale and Bentleigh Greens did well,” the 26-year-old said. “A lot of players out of nowhere started to appear on the radar of some A-League clubs.

“For me personally all the A-League clubs already know who I am, a lot of the coaches know me, mainly through Craig Moore because we used to play together at Kavala in Greece along with Zeljko Kalac. If something does come up in the A-League I would look at it seriously.”

Govas added that job security outside football can take a greater prominence.

“This year I am having a very good season and I attribute that to having a lot of structure in my life and me being quite happy,” he said.

“Generally when an A-League club does pick up players from the lower division, they kind of look at it like ‘we’ll get him as a backup. He’s a cheap option for us and someone that can maybe provide a bit of stability and sit on the bench’.

“So I’d be reluctant to let go of a career in banking as getting a job these days is not as easy as it used to be. But if an A-League did approach me they’d have to come at me with a serious prospect and I want the club to say, ‘I want to sign Govas because I feel that we need him’.”