Blacktown City Demons are languishing at the foot of the Telechoice Premier League table in what can only be described as an unfamiliar position but coach Ken Schembri, always upbeat, feels this year of ill fortune and well documented financial problems has the opportunity to be the catalyst for bigger and better.
?Obviously we are not used to being in this position and I?m certain many people have us down for the wooden spoon and relegation at the end of the season but we will be battling to get off the floor every step of the way.
?I realised this season was going to prove a hard mistress before it started as we only began pre-season training after Christmas when the other clubs had already been preparing for a good five or six weeks so we were under no illusions whatsoever. The financial demise of the licensed club hasn?t helped but I felt we could field, on paper at least, a reasonable side and the aim was to play attractive, open and entertaining football which, with all that has happened since, is what we are still striving to achieve and some say we are doing.?
The immortal words ?on paper? is often shown as a curse in football circles and has certainly proven the case for the Demons this term when you look at the utterly devastating list of long-term injuries the club has had to endure; Matthew Pressello (knee ? season), Brian Vanega (knee ? season), Brendan Maroney (hairline fracture in Rd 1, missing from Rd 4 to 14), Ray Kaawi (torn muscle, out from Rd 2 to 15), Ryan Walsh (out from Rd 1 but may make a comeback in the reserves for Rd 17), Tyler Simpson (blood disorder, in hospital for a month), Bruno Salas (Grade 2 knee strain, made comeback last weekend against Sydney Olympic), Adam Biddle (returned to Sydney FC because of illness) and finally Sean Rooney, had to wait 30-days to get his clearance papers from Italy and then promptly fell over at home, broke his hand and had an operation to place screws into the injury.
The season may have been different but for the injuries listed showing they have been season-long and not short term which could have seen Blacktown out of trouble and to further compound matters, Luka Dukic was replaced in the previous round against Olympic with what could prove to be yet another AC Joint and another season threatening injury.
Faced by this would a coach be disheartened and simply write the season off and begin planning for the next campaign albeit in a lower division?
?The task ahead was always going to be difficult but you always look for a challenge in football as you do in life. The fact this has happened this season is very rare for any club because one or two players out for a few weeks is common with niggling injury but for so many out for the season is a rarity.
?The heart breaking aspect is that the kids are playing well and losing by the odd goal in matches and that comes down to a lack of discipline, the one moment where they switch off and concede but that comes down to the fact that there isn?t an old head out there to keep them alert.
?In the last few games our oldest player has been 26-years old, three are 24 and the rest are 21 or younger and with the current rule being four overage players allowable, we could field the side in the U/20s. So we are lacking that bit of experience that all sides need.?
Apart from the two matches against Phil Moss coached Manly United, the Demons losing 3-nil away and 4-nil at home, no side has given them a ?touch up? as surely as they have.
?In the first match of the season we were 3-one down to Sydney United at half-time and Paul Karbon was sent-off leaving us to play the second-half with ten men. We lost the match three-one but the signs were there that we have the nucleus of a good team and but for injuries,? he tails away.
With the ?wooden spoon? a reality staring them in the face, what does Schembri have to say about it?
?We are favorites for bottom place but with 6-games to go we will be doing everything to not let that happen.
?We will use this season to consolidate but we have put plans in place and adopted procedures that we feel is the way to go within the league for the future but the frightening thing is that we could lose many of our players to the National Youth League and that would mean we don?t get them back to training before mid-February and so the cycle that began this season will start all over again.
?However, our next three matches are against Penrith, Marconi and then league leaders Sutherland (at home) so we?ll be doing everything possible to get results against them and see where we stand after that, hopefully you?ll be ringing up to ask about the first team to beat the Sharks this season,? he adds jokingly.
Ken Schembri has been in the game long enough to know what?s what and his vision for the future of the game, at State level, are far reaching and bear careful consideration, as we shall see in Part two next week.
–By Micky Brock