by Andrew Parkinson
Former A-League goalkeeper Ben Kennedy is keeping his eye on the prize despite the disrupted start to the NPL season.
The Northern NSW Football NPL season was due to start on March 20 only to be suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The league will not start until April 14 at the earliest, forcing players at all levels to wait for their chance to get on the pitch in 2020.
That includes Kennedy, who will provide a fearsome-looking Lambton squad with an imposing last line of defence after the retirement of Brad Swancott.
The 33-year-old Kennedy played 159 A-League games for Newcastle and Central Coast in a professional career that spanned 14 years before joining Lambton at the back end of last year.
The Thornton junior enjoyed an impressive career that earned him caps for Australia’s under-20s and 23s sides and player of the year awards for the Jets and Mariners in 2012 and 2018 respectively.
But since leaving the professional game the humble Kennedy has returned to his roots to play in the local league thanks to an association with Jaffas coach James Pascoe from their days at the Jets.
“As a team I definitely think we should do well,” Kennedy said.
“Obviously we want to make the finals and go on and win the grand final. That’s the aim. The squad we’ve put together is pretty decent on paper. We’ve just got to put it on the park.
“I think it’s pretty realistic for us to aim for the grand final and hopefully win it. For me personally [my goal] is just to play and enjoy football. I think if you enjoy it you’ll play well. I don’t have any great expectations other than to enjoy my football again.”
And Kennedy is doing just that at the Jaffas after a difficult couple of A-League seasons on the Central Coast.
“To be honest I’m probably enjoying it more back here than what I had the last year at the Mariners,” he said.
“It probably had a lot to do with the results down there. It’s never enjoyable not winning. I definitely still love training and playing more than I ever have. That’s why I’m still here. The day I don’t enjoy it is when I’ll stop.
“Obviously you have days when you think you wish you were still [playing professionally] but it’s not very often I’ve thought that. I haven’t thought about it a great deal. I think my personality kind of handles it good, I’m pretty relaxed. When I finished up there I’ve gone straight into working and transitioning from one thing to another.
“I’ve only watched a couple of A-League games, that’s about it. You miss being around the guys more than anything else. In terms of the actual football side not so much. But definitely the one thing [you miss] the most from that side of things is you see the same people every day and kind of form a bond that I think is different to a lot of other jobs. They’re probably the things I do miss about football.
“[But] it’s been really good [at Lambton]. It’s been even more enjoyable than I thought it would be. They’re a good bunch of guys. Jimmy [Pascoe] and [assistant coach] Shane Pryce are great and I’m looking forward to the season when it starts.”
Kennedy only played four matches for Lambton last season and wasn’t involved as the Jaffas crashed out in the finals, losing 5-1 on aggregate to eventual champions Edgeworth.
But while Lambton have their eyes on the top prizes this season, Kennedy acknowledged there were other heavyweights aiming to land their own knockout blows.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of experienced players. A few boys have played in the A-League for a number of years,” he said.
“It’s a pretty experienced side with boys that have played at the top level. All around you look all over the squad these boys we’ve picked up have done very well. Mitch Oxborrow was player of the year last year. Riley McNaughton was in the team of the year.
“You’ve got Matt Thompson obviously and a lot of boys that have been good players in the [NNSW NPL] for a while like Scott Pettit and Kale Bradbery.
“It’s a pretty strong squad. We’re well balanced with lots of competition for places which will only make us stronger.
“In saying that it won’t be easy. Edgeworth have probably been the pick of the clubs in the local league for the last four or five years. They’re always going to be strong. They just seem to keep producing players and they’re always hard to beat.
“Maitland last year were minor premiers and made the grand final. They’ve added [Braedyn] Crowley as well so they’ll be strong again.
“Broadmeadow will be another tough team again. It looks like a lot of teams will be better again so it’ll be a tough year for everyone.”
As for the enforced break before the season eventually starts Kennedy said while it was frustrating as a player, health and safety in the community was the most important thing.
“We’ve got programs to stay fit. Jimmy and our strength and conditioning coach have given us some stuff. I’ll do some running and try and keep fit,” he said.
“That’s kind of where we’re at. You’re sort of limited in what you can do. You can’t go to gyms because they’re all shut. It’s hard to do ball work on your own. So it’s mainly keeping fit and going from there when we get back together again.
“I probably won’t be able to do a great deal in terms of goalkeeping. It’s kind of up in the air especially for me goalkeeping wise because you’re not sure how it’s going to work whether we get straight back into it or have a mini pre-season. But it is what it is and it’s out of our control. We’ve just got to make the most of it and be ready to go when the time is right.”