Illawarra matching it with NPL clubs

Image: Bulli’s Dylan Lewis will be chasing FFA Cup success against Blacktown City – Georgia Matts

Countless times over the past few seasons of watching football in the Illawarra I have queried, “How would these sides stack up against state-level opposition?” This season’s FFA Cup has confirmed, in my mind at least, that the top clubs in the region could achieve high NPL 3 or even mid table NPL 2 finishes.
Fraser Park travelled to Macedonia Park to face Kemblawarra Fury in the sixth round of the FFA Cup. Under the guidance of Branko Culina and his son’s Dean and Jason, Fraser Park is sweeping all before them in the NPL 3. After beating the Fury 2-0 in January’s Portuguese Cup, Fraser Park seemed to expect a simple passage into the next round but they were turned over 2-1. A Fury side with the likes of ex-Sydney FC defender Alvin Ceccoli as well as a number of former National Youth League prospects barely shifted out of first gear.
The win meant there would be two Football South Coast clubs in the last ten of the NSW FFA Cup preliminary rounds. The other team being Bulli, who are currently top of the Illawarra Premier League (FSC’s top flight) enjoyed a number of successes highlighted by wins over NPL 2 mainstays Macarthur Rams and State League outfit Nepean. A key figure in Bulli’s run has been Dylan Lewis who has scored in every round of the Cup including two against the Rams.
The aforementioned FSC clubs were joined by the Albion Park White Eagles, Wollongong United and Picton Rangers to make up the five FSC clubs that entered into the third round.
It is staggering to consider two FSC clubs have made it to within a game of the national round of 32. More than NPL 3 (who had 14 teams enter), equal to NPL 2 (who had 12 teams enter) and only surpassed by NPL 1 (who had 10 teams enter).
The FSC clubs have competed in 19 FFA Cup ties this season and they have scored an incredible 72 goals, 43 more than their opposition. In those 19 games, they have only been the home side on three occasions – travel is a significant burden for clubs not used to doing so.

Wollongong United made it to the sixth round where they were knocked out by NPL 2 side Hills Brumbies in a see-sawing 6-3 but they achieved some creditable wins including a come from behind 3-1 win away to Granville Rage of the NPL 3.
Picton Rangers, who are equal last in the Premier League pulled off a couple of wins before facing Sydney Olympic in the fifth round. Olympic may have played a youthful side but they still called upon ex-Newcastle Jet Radovan Pavicevic to score two penalties on the night.
The Albion Park White Eagles, are struggling this season despite being the reigning Premier League Champions. They made it all the way to the sixth round where they faced Hakoah Sydney City East. The NPL 1 outfit needed 120 minute plus penalties to knock out a Shohei Okuno inspired White Eagles.
These five clubs are a testament to the quality of football in the Illawarra.
Kemblawarra Fury and Bulli now have an opportunity to become the first non-NPL team under Football NSW to qualify for the final 32. The Fury travel to Russell Reserve to face Hills Brumbies while Bulli will play “the biggest game in their history” when they host 2016 NPL 1 Champions, Blacktown City. Both games, as well as the remaining seventh round ties, kick off a 7.30 pm on Wednesday night. 
For a number of reasons, there will never be a promotion/relegation system encompassing every team like there is in England, however, the Cup (magic or not) has shown me a future with more than one Illawarra side in the NPL pyramid.


Post match interviews after Kemblawarra Fury vs Fraser Park with Fury coach, Luke McGuire and captain, Alvin Ceccoli

 Post match interview after Bulli’s league match vs Corrimal Rangers with Bulli coach, Matt Bailey