Having spent the better part of their careers playing at the highest level in Australian football, former Hyundai A-League stars will be fighting to add yet another milestone to their list of honours – a National Premier Leagues (NPL) Northern NSW Grand Final at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday 8th September.
Jobe Wheelhouse, Joel and Ryan Griffiths, James Virgili, Daniel McBreen and Josh Rose will all be looking to progress their respective sides into the championship-decider, as will Maitland Magpies’ midfielder Matt Thompson, who’s been plying his trade for the NPL NNSW club over four seasons.
Previously, Thompson was one of the top players to ever play for the Newcastle Jets, playing 145 games including the 2008 A-League Grand Final victory against the Central Coast Mariners.
This weekend, Maitland will be take on Broadmeadow Magic in the Semi Finals in the hope of qualifying for their first Grand Final in 37 years.
Thompson said that his 2008 Championship win holds a special place in his heart, but playing in the NPL NNSW Grand Final would fall into that same category.
“If we can do the job this weekend against Broadmeadow, then I expect the week leading into the NPL Grand Final to be similar to the A-League Grand Final,” Thompson said.
“Obviously, the NPL match won’t have the same microscopic media attention, but the butterflies, nervousness and excitement will all be on the same level.
“If we make it, it will be amazing. I’d be treating it no different to way I treated big match I played in 2008.”
Although the Hyundai A-League Grand Final he played in and won was against fierce rivals Central Coast Mariners and the first in Newcastle Jets’ history, Thompson believes the NPL provides a different, emotional element, especially as his career is beginning to wind down.
“Although the A-League was a higher league and there were more people watching, if I look at this year, I’m playing with some of my best mates…there’s a lot more feeling and emotion behind this year than there was in 2008 with the Jets,” admitted Thompson.
“This could very well be the last opportunity I get.
“It’ll be a massive spectacle and it could more than likely be my last stint on a Grand Final stage.”
Getting to the illustrious Grand Final won’t be an easy task though, Maitland will be challenged by Broadmeadow Magic, who are the best attacking team in the competition and includes his former Newcastle Jets teammate, James Virgili.
Since leaving the Newcastle Jets in 2015, Virgili has starred for his junior club and been consistently near the top of the Golden Boot tallies each year.
Virgili is no stranger to big matches, including playing against Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero, but admitted that if his side can progress to another NPL Grand Final, playing at McDonald Jones Stadium, would be one of the biggest in his career.
“I’ve played in some big games like a few F3 derbies alongside Emile Heskey and a few sold-out stadium games against the likes of Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC around the same time.
“Matches like those I fondly remember for the atmosphere and because they are games I always aspired to growing up.
“I remember watching many NPL Grand Finals growing up that Dad and brother Luke were involved and there would always be a massive buzz around the ground.
“The ground would be full to the brim, with a unique local football-type atmosphere which is hard to beat in its own unique way.
“In NPL Grand Finals the winning feeling is better because the win is shared with your close mates. You get more of a community feel at an NPL club which. I guess the enjoyment side of football comes more into play a bit more at the local NPL level.
“Hopefully over the coming years the NPL NNSWF Grand Finals can grow and generate into something of its own kind with more people getting behind it,”said Virgili.
Tickets for the NPL Northern NSW Grand Final are on sale now and include admission for the 18 Years and 20 Years Grand Finals prior to First Grade.