Thursday, 5 June 2008


ROCKETS TAKE FLIGHT..or should that be The Mariners!

Nearpost Reporter and radio host Russ Gibbs gives us the lowdown on the ACT Rockets preparations for their big game against the Central Coast Mariners in three weeks.

Russ will update us weekly on the Coach, the training, the players and of course how we will flog the Mariners.

Central Coast Mariners beware!


By Russ Gibbs

Fox television will shortly begin their search for the next ‘football superstar’ with their new reality TV concept literally kicking off in mid-June as fifteen lucky hopefuls contest for the right to earn an A-League contract with Sydney FC.

Over the space of a few months the youngsters will be tested on their abilities with and without a ball to see whether they are made of the requisite stuff to become a professional.

Not a long time to impress potential suitors at all.

So what if you only had three weeks of preparation to take an essentially amateur group of players to face a match against the hardened professionals of the A-League? Sounds impossible?

Well that’s the task facing ACT Rockets coaches Dean Ugrinic and Scott Conlon over the coming month as they try to mould the ‘best of the best’ into a fluent, cohesive unit in just four training sessions.

“It’s a tough task, no doubt about it,” Ugrinic said as his players warmed down following the first hit-out at the AIS playing fields on a brisk and chilly Wednesday evening. “But we have a great group of players. They are young and enthusiastic and have some superb ability. They have certainly stepped up for this first session.”

The squad definitely looked the part in their opening training session, held on Wednesday 4th June, as they were put through their paces in a variety of drills aimed at forming a close-knit team dynamic within a limited timeframe.

With basic fitness a given at this level, Ugrinic and Conlon were able to focus more on the style of play they hope to impose on the Mariners. “We want to try and play football,” Ugrinic commented.

“That is why we have selected a team of footballers. We could go out and defend for ninety minutes and just smack the ball clear at every given opportunity, but that would not do justice to the group of players we have here. They are a talented group of individuals that we are hopeful of melding into a team to do the ACT proud.”

The session commenced with a vigorous, yet not-over strenuous, warm-up led by Tony Ryan, fitness trainer for O’Connor Knights and the Ainslie AFL teams. The 47-year-old is a touch football representative having twice been part of Australian sides that claimed World Cup glory at the sport.

He has recently been selected for the New South Wales State of Origin touch football team at Masters’ level and is well-versed in the need for a proper warm-up.

“Basically the drills we performed this evening were the same drills I would do for Ainslie or the Knights,” he said. “It’s important that the players loosen up and have their bodies prepared in the right way for physical activity.”

Ryan teamed up with Dean Ugrinic at the Knights five years ago and has since been an integral part of their build-up in training. “It’s hard to make matches, due to my commitments with Ainslie, but I do look out for the results and take a keen interest,” Ryan commented.

With the players sufficiently loosened it was time for the main focus of the evening to begin. Unfortunately, due to injuries or unavailability the O’Connor Knights quartet of Steve Rezzo, Goran Veljanovski, Justin Selkirk and David Brouwer missed the session, as did Trent Flanagan of Canberra Olympic.

To make up the numbers Ugrinic borrowed the talented Canberra City centre-back Zak Maybury, the precocious skills of Woden Valley’s Jono Rees and Knights’ up-and-coming goalkeeper Cody Larkin from the Rockets under-18 squad.

Each showed their mettle by standing tall alongside their more experienced colleagues and impressed the onlooking coaches.

After opening with some keep-ball in a five on two grid, which ensured plenty of fast, accurate and sharp two touch passing, the squad was split into two distinct groups, Ugrinic worked with his back-line focusing on keeping possession and working the ball out from the back, something that will need to be executed to perfection in order to keep the ball away from the sure to be marauding Mariners’ frontline.

“We need to keep the ball for as long as possible,” Ugrinic reiterated, “and then take it quickly in transition from defence to attack whilst not resorting to banging it downfield at the first available opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Conlon was busy creating striking drills for the attacking members of the squad. Working in a variety of complex reverse passes and with overlapping runners taking the ball at pace, crosses and lay-offs were neatly placed into the path of the onrushing attacker who had the shooting opportunity.

One felt for the goalkeeping trio of Nathan Denham (Canberra FC), Brett Dickens (Tuggeranong United) and Cody Larkin as shot after shot of venomous accuracy pierced the net from twenty yards range. Marcin Zygmunt (Woden Valley) in particular stuck some shots that flew like an exocet missile into the top corner of the net, with either foot.

It wasn’t all about goals though as the ‘keepers proved their quality repelling the onslaught with some outstanding blocks.

Having got the cobwebs out of the system the session concluded with a mini-game, played on half a field with the squad split into two teams of seven-a-side.

Incorporating the previous drills into a game scenario made the players think on their feet and added perception to the evening. The visual awareness of where their fellow runners were headed and the swift passing to feed them was phenomenal considering this was the first time this group had ever been assembled.

Ugrinic, who played football locally at premier League level for Belconnen United, Canberra Deakin (now Canberra FC) and the University of Canberra before heading into the world of coaching (it was Ugrinic who steered the O’Connor Knights back into the Premier League from State League Division One in 2001), was pleased with the first run.

“It went very well,” he said afterwards. “The players were receptive to the ideas we have put forward and we can only hope that we can gel in time. Obviously, it would be great to have longer with the players before the match, but we will have to make do.”

Goalkeepers: Brett Dickens (Tuggeranong United), Nathan Denham (Canberra FC)
Defenders: David Brouwer (O’Connor Knights), John Ison (Canberra FC), Matt Valeri (Belconnen United), Steve Rezzo (O’Connor Knights)

Midfielders: Trent Flanigan (Canberra Olympic), Pat Ross-McGee (Canberra City), Justin Selkirk (O’Connor Knights), Adam Spaleta (Canberra FC), Oliver Wiederkehr (Canberra Olympic), Victor Yanes (Canberra Olympic), Marcin Zygmunt (Woden Valley)

Strikers: Travis Dries (Canberra Olympic), Paul Ivanic (Canberra FC), Goran Veljanovski (O’Connor Knights)
Coaches: Dean Ugrinic (O’Connor Knights), Scott Conlon (Tuggeranong United)

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