By Andrew Parkinson
With Robbie Turnbull about to notch his 250th first grade game, it’s fair to say there isn’t much he hasn’t seen in football.
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing football into temporary suspension, players are facing the difficult task of remaining fit and prepared for the start of the season while unable to train with teammates.
The NNSW NPL season was only days away from starting before the suspension, leaving players itching to get out on the park.
None more so than Turnbull and his Weston Workers FC teammates.
It had already been a long summer for the Bears after they were left to stew on missing out on the finals by a solitary point last season.
Weston had been in the finals mix for the entire campaign before slipping out of the top four after they won just three of their final eight matches.
Turnbull said the added delay to getting back on the park had been even tougher for the Bears in the context of their 2019 finish.
“It was definitely tough as a player. We’d all built right up to be ready to go and had a plan for pre-season to be at our maximum. You work for more than three months to be at your best so that was kind of deflating,” he said.
“As a footballer it’s hard, it’s frustrating. You can’t even watch [football on television]. You’ve got all this built up energy waiting for that release of playing.
“We’ve got a strong group of players. It was just disappointing we didn’t make the finals last year. I think that would have been a big springboard to what we want to do this year.
“Winning is a habit and we know we can [but] when you miss out by one point and look back and see the games you lost points… it was a good year but we still didn’t get to play finals. Certainly suspension and injury hurt us towards the end of the season. We lost momentum and that cost us the finals.
“That’s what drives us, gives you that hunger and focus. That’s why everyone was so energised to go again. We’re motivated to be better and improve again because we’ve got that hunger and desire. That disappointment has us burning to make amends.
“I think it’s a top four squad. We’ve got a lot of technical players. The squad needed to adapt a little bit. Last year we were free scoring. If we can at least be somewhere near that along with being stronger defensively then we’ll have a strong year.”
The 37 points Weston accrued in 2019 would have seen them finish second the previous season. But while they scored the equal second most goals in the division, the Bears leaked a disappointing 33 goals to have only the seventh-best defence in the competition.
Weston also have a new coach in charge with Leo Bertos taking over from another former A-League player in Kew Jaliens.
That has seen the Bears adopt a more possession-based approach, with Turnbull hopeful the enforced lay off will give Weston more time to work under their new boss.
“For us as a team, I suppose it’s an opportunity. We’ve just got a new coach and it might give us more time together to train as a team when we can [start training together again],” he said.
“Taking the positive out of the negative it gives us a chance to grow under Leo because he’s been working to implement his style.
“It’s taken a while and we’re still learning. We’re working out how to play through certain problems. Last year we played a bit more counter attacking, playing more in the opposition’s half. With Leo it’s more building up with the ball, keeping possession. That’s a founding principle of how he wants to play and win games.
“Teams who keep the ball generally win games. They suffocate and tire teams out with the ball. It’s about how we do it in key moments in the attacking third and how we react to losing the ball, how we defend. With Leo it’s a very high press. The instant we lose the ball four blokes are on him to win it back.
“It all happened very quickly. The end of December Kew got the opportunity to go which required Weston to find a new coach. A couple of us were engaged as to who we thought would be a good fit. Everyone wanted someone of Leo’s stature.
“We’ve played under Kew’s style for 12 months and Leo’s is very different. He’s a very possession-orientated football coach. It will take time to get used to and be comfortable with the way he wants to play. And for him as well to get used to the squad he’s got.
“Obviously it was disruptive. There’s never a perfect time [to change coach]. It’s good though, it keeps you on your toes because the new coach has a blank canvas. As a player and as a coach he’s fantastic. You couldn’t get a better bloke. That’s important in a new coach that he’s very calm and thoughtful. He’s got a plan, everything is really well structured.”
Turnbull made his first grade debut with Weston as a teenager and, except for a brief stint with Adamstown, has been a mainstay of the Bears side for more than 15 years.
Like many he is juggling work and a young family during the Coronavirus outbreak. But while he is coming towards the end of his football career, Turnbull was adamant the suspension would not bring about an early retirement.
“I’m doing everything I can to stay fit in the hope that football goes back. It’s also an opportunity to spend a bit more time with the family and dust up on my FIFA 20 skills,” he said.
“We’ve only just started this break really so obviously we’ll have to work through more challenges that present themselves.
“But what do you do. It’s very suck it and see at the moment. I suppose we’re all waiting to see where everything lands then get in a routine as everything becomes the new normal.
“I’ve got young kids so I’m reluctant to do a lot. My block is 1.6 kilometres around so I’ve been running it twice to do a 3.2km time trial. I’ve got that down pat.
“I like to think I’ve got plenty left in me. I feel fit and energised. I’m enjoying the challenge. I’m only 34. I’ve got a young body in terms of fitness. Other than my one knee injury, which I’ve had no lingering problems with, I’ve always been fit. I’m playing for enjoyment now. And while I still feel capable I’ll continue to do so at this level for as long as I can and as long as the club and the coach want me.
“If I was the opposition I wouldn’t want to play Weston in the finals. If you spoke to coaches from last year I think they’d say they were generally threatened by us. If we make the finals we’ll make the grand final. Teams won’t go with us with the way we play. We’ve just got that x-factor to hurt teams. I’m excited and buzzing to get back playing and have a big year.”