Thursday, 12 June 2008


Read Nearpost radio host Russ Gibbs update on ACT Rockets preparations for the Mariners.


by Russ Gibbs.

The ACT Rockets second training session took place at the Australian Institute of Sport Track and Field stadium on Wednesday 11th June in the shadow of Bruce Stadium on a damp, yet mild, evening.

With a fair smattering of rain throughout the previous two days the pitch was dewy and slippy but, as you would expect from a top-class facility, in superb condition.

Again the problems of getting the selected squad together reared its head with Steve Rezzo and Goran Veljanovski of the O’Connor Knights still unable to train due to slight strains picked up in the 0-1 loss to Tuggeranong United in the ACT Premier League on the previous weekend.

With Matt Valeri (Belconnen United), nine-goal striker Paul Ivanic and fellow Canberra FC players Adam Spaleta and John Ison also unavailable coaches Dean Ugrinic and Scott Conlon called on their standby players, striker Goran Josifovski (Queanbeyan City) and defender Lucas Roth (Canberra Olympic), to fill the breach, which they did with aplomb.

After the regular warm-up, needed to stretch away the kinks from a rigorous weekend of Premier League action, the squad, supplemented by Youth Rockets Zak Maybury, Jonathan Reis, Kole Aitken and Andrew Pilkington (a highly rated talent from Woden Valley) split into two groups of seven for a five on two circle designed to promote awareness, speed of thought and adjustment.

The wet conditions underfoot didn’t deter the Rockets lads from pinging passes at pace and changing direction with ease, despite one or two slips!

Following fifteen minutes of this the two groups were split into a defensive and offensive formation with one goal in order to learn how to break down a packed defence using overlapping runners and short, sharp, accurate passing.

Nineteen-year-old midfielder Victor Yanes, now with Canberra Olympic, shone in his central role and is convinced that the Rockets can scare their more illustrious opponents come game time.

“I think we will do well,” he said afterwards. “We have a good squad. The players are all very skilful and work hard for each other both on and off the ball which will count in out favour.”

Yanes, who was joint ACT Player of the Year in 2007 whilst with Woden Valley, moved to Australia from his native Brazil when he was eleven and has since represented Australia at schoolboy level and has ambitions to further his game.

“I hope to play well in the match against the Mariners and hopefully be given the opportunity to sign for their Youth League squad. But I will be taking things one day at a time and striving to improve my game. My strengths lie in my ability to hold the ball and in my distribution but I do need to work on my running!” he joked. When asked about his selection to the Rockets and what it meant to him he replied, “it’s just awesome. It’s a great opportunity to play with top quality players and to be involved in a squad such as this.”

These sentiments were echoed by 23-year-old Canberra FC shot-stopper Nathan Denham.

The former Rockets representative, who has also played State League for ACT and for the Australian futsal squad said, “It’s great to be picked into a squad that is regarded as the best of the best and it’s a big match that puts us all in the spotlight.

Everyone is keen and the young lads want to put themselves in the frame to step up. It’s a wonderful opportunity.” Denham has had previous experience of coach Ugrinic when he had a stint with O’Connor Knights. “He (Ugrinic) is a good coach,” Denham commented.

“He has good ideas and I rate him very highly along with Scott (Conlon) who has done a great job at Tuggeranong.” With Brett Dickens pushing hard for the number one jersey as well, Denham has had to be on the top of his game at training – no easy feat considering the attacking quality in front of him.

“Some of the shooting in training last week was sensational!” he enthused. “Marcin Zygmunt impressed me with the power of his finishing off both feet, and along with Paul (Ivanic), Adam (Spaleta), Travis (Dries) and the rest; it has been daunting at times!”

Denham has had experience of a higher level of football having been drafted in as cover for the Sutherland Sharks in the NSW Premier League this season. “Mike Katz (former ACT representative) put my name forward and I played four games up there,” he continued.

“The set-up was highly professional and the three training sessions a week certainly meant that you improved. It was an interesting experience and one that I definitely hope to repeat.” A good showing against the Mariners may be just the stepping stone he needs.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the field Rockets Youth (under-19) coach Alex Butt was putting his training squad through their paces ahead of the cull that would see the final sixteen man team to face ACTAS, in the curtain raiser to the ACT Rockets versus Central Coast Mariners match, picked.

The former Parramatta Power defender who currently plies his trade at the back for Canberra Olympic has a wealth of quality to select from.

“Most of the guys in the training squad are playing regular first grade football in the ACT Premier League,” he said. “This means that they generally know each other and get on very well. In that respect it has been good so far.” Butt, who has had previous coaching experience with ACTAS as well as assisting Tom Sermani and Robbie Hooker in an unofficial capacity with the Matildas, is impressed with the talent available to him. “They have all stood up, some obviously more than others,” he commented. “Philippe Bernarbo has been a real stand-out, mostly because he is the only one in the squad who is not a Premier League player. He plays the majority of his games at the under-18 level but has looked completely at home and comfortable here.”

The Youth Rockets face a similar dilemma to their senior counterparts with only four training sessions to fine-tune the team that will showcase the talent to Mariners head honchos Lawrie McKinna and Alex Tobin. “We aim to put on a display for the Mariners duo,” Butt continued.

“The ACTAS boys have the best talent in the ACT at under-16 and under-17 level and I have the best talent at under-18 and under-19 level. It promises to be a real contest and should be a superb advertisement for the type of player we breed in the ACT.”

With only a fortnight until kick off time is running out for the trio of Ugrinic, Conlon and Butt to get their teams in shape however the signs are promising.

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