By James Ward
Maitland coach Michael Bolch believes the Magpies have the ability to defend their Northern NSW NPL premiership when football resumes after the suspension despite losing a handful of players from their 2019 squad.
Former A-League player Matt Thompson (Lambton), striker Alex Read (Valentine), midfielder Ryan Broadley (Thornton) and Ryan Clarke (Hamilton Azzurri) are among the departed players. But the defending premiers have done their best to strengthen despite the losses.
Last season’s NNSW NPL golden boot winner Braedyn Crowley has arrived at Cooks Square Park from Lambton, while Matt Comerford returns to the Magpies after missing last year through injury.
The Magpies won an historic maiden premiership, advanced to the grand final, progressed to the round of 32 in the FFA Cup and made it to the semi-finals in the National Premier League finals series during a memorable 2019 campaign, a remarkable achievement for a club that played in the second division six years ago.
Reigning coach of the year Bolch has put together another strong squad despite losing some experienced first graders and premiership winners in Thompson, Clarke and Read.
But the Magpies’ acquisition of Crowley is a major coup, with the former Newcastle Jets striker to bolster their attacking stocks.
Crowley scored 15 goals for Lambton on his way to the golden boot last year and joins a deadly attacking unit alongside Joel Wood who scored 14 of his own in 2019.
The club have also retained the majority of their premiership-winning side including former A-League player Nick Cowburn, captain Carl Thornton and rising star Zac Thomas to have a squad willing to create more history.
Maitland would have been pleased with their pre-season form, knocking over four rival NPL teams in the off-season with a combined goal tally of 19 strikes.
Bolch said while it would be difficult to replicate their 2019 season, defending their premiership was a challenge the coaching staff had already put forward to the players.
“We’ve lost five players out of our grand final squad from last year. A lot of experience and goals. But what we’ve got back, Matt Comerford was outstanding for us in 2018 before he got injured and Braedyn Crowley, to me, was the best player in the competition last year,” Bolch said.
“[I’m] really happy with the balance of the side and Braedyn got the golden boot last year. Joel Wood was one goal behind him and Matty Comerford scored 10 the year before. So there is three guys who can all score in double figures.
“There is going to be plenty of competition. We’ll set our sights on the top three first and then adjust as we’re going through the year.
“We’ve played against four NPL opposition (in pre-season) and won all four games and the benchmark is there. You need a lot of luck with injuries but the talent is certainly there to go back-to-back.”
The Magpies were the king of late goals last season with more than 34 per cent of their finishes coming after the 85th minute, evidence of their resilience, fitness and ability to fight for the full 90 minutes.
The black and white have the experience of last year in the bank but finished the season with a 2-0 grand final defeat to Edgeworth, a result burnt in the back of their minds.
Coach: Michael Bolch
Captain: Carl Thornton
Last Season: Premiers, grand finalists
Ins: Adam Blunden (The Entrance), Braedyn Crowley (Lambton), Joey O’Connor (Newcastle Jets Youth), Matt Comerford (year off)
Outs: Alex Read (Valentine), Grant Brown, Louis Townsend (Adamstown), Luke Jennings (Cessnock City), Matt Thompson (Lambton), Ryan Broadley (Thornton), Ryan Clarke (Hamilton Azzurri)
The Bottom Line:
Maitland’s pedigree remains and the experience of 2019 will serve them well this year. The signing of Crowley will take the Magpies attack to another level, while Bolch has assembled another formidable side, ready to make their own history. Expect Maitland to be a tough team to beat again and fighting it out to make it back-to-back premierships.