SET FOR THE NET: Mildura City attacker and assistant coach, Nick Woods, is confident his side can cover the loss of experienced players from last year’s title-winning team with talented youngsters from their junior program. Photo: PAUL MENSCH
By MITCH RODD
EXPERIENCE will be substituted for youthful enthusiasm for Mildura City in their quest for back-to-back S-League titles.
The ‘City-zens’ finished the Football Federation Sunraysia (FFS) Senior Men’s pre-season in style, claiming the Rudi Horvat Cup 4-2 over Nichols Point.
Some big names are missing from the near-flawless 2018 City outfit, however, assistant coach and star attacker, Nick Woods, believes the youngsters who earn promotion will make an impact.
Golden Boot winner, Brandon Pollifrone, has re-located to Melbourne, although he may be available for some games during 2019.
Dual league best and fairest winner Lukas Pedder (Melbourne), and assist merchant, Ekin Arisoy (US College) are also out.
Pollifrone, Woods and Dominic Ghidinelli formed a fearsome front three in 2018 that dominated the Sunraysia competition. The trio took the podium in the Golden Boot standings. Pollifrone scored a huge 35 goals from just 17 matches to top the charts, followed by Woods (26 goals in 16 games), and Ghidinelli (12 in 13).
With some experienced departures, Woods said talented juniors like Christian Pollifrone, Brandon’s younger brother, and Riley Aunger will get their opportunities.
“Jacob Rodi and I are the oldest players in the side now and we’re both 24, so it’s going to be a different look this year,” he said.
“We’re still trying to find our feet as a team. We’ve lost a few experienced players and we’ve got some really talented young guys coming through that we’ve got to help find their feet at senior level.
“Without having Brandon we have young Riley Aunger coming up to be part of our new little ‘strike force’. He played between Under 16’s and Senior Men’s last year, but once he gets comfortable playing purely at the senior level I think he’ll be great.
“Christian is only 15 and looks like he’ll be a star. While Brandon has the pace to go straight at defenders, young ‘Pistol’ likes to use his skill.
“He hasn’t played a Senior league game as yet but even through the pre-season you can see his confidence building after each game.”
It was some of that youthful enthusiasm that helped get City across the line against the Pointers in the Rudi Horvat Cup final on Sunday.
After City scored the opener, it was Nichols Point who took a surprising 2-1 lead into half-time, thanks to a brace from Rahan Frank.
City clicked in the second half, however, and would score another three goals, with the younger Pollifrone brother putting them into the lead.
“He (Christian) came off the bench and scored a great goal with the game at 2-2. He made a real impact,” Woods said.
The City assistant coach also admitted the playing group had some difficulty finding motivation for 2019 after their outstanding campaign 12 months ago.
“We weren’t winning comfortably during the last pre-season but it managed to click by round one. We’re in a similar position right now in just trying to find out how we work best,” he said.
“A lot of guys work on the block too so not everyone can get to every training session.
“A lot of boys lost their motivation. Without trying to sound cocky, when you have a season as good as we put together last year, how do you back that up?
“I think having these new young guys coming in has really helped in that sense, and it’s up to us senior guys to give them confidence.
“Senior games are more physical so they probably won’t be able to play exactly like they did in Under 16s, but if they stay confident they can play really well.
“The competition looks like it will be much closer this year. Each team have their strengths and weaknesses.
“Nichols Point were impressive on the weekend. They were never the most talented side but they were always determined and never let you get an easy ball.
“It looks like they’ve brought in a couple of new players who look pretty handy, so I think they could cause a few upsets this year.”
Woods hopes he can produce similar results with goals and assists in 2019 as he did playing in a central attacking midfield role behind the ‘poacher’ Ghidinelli.
The Senior Men have their first round of the S-League season on Sunday, with City up against Three Colours, Nichols Point playing Mildura United, and Irymple Knights having the bye.
All other grades, however, will continue in their Knockout Cup campaigns.