Gungahlin United’s promising start to 2023 has put to rest any doubts that the club could maintain the upward trajectory shown in previous campaigns.
The Gunners will be buoyed by their second-placed finish last year, where they went within five points of claiming the League Championship crown.
Newly-appointed coach Chris Caggiano is in charge for the new season, having worked as the assistant in his most recent role, and previously for United’s youth teams. It is a promotion that Caggiano never quite expected but has taken with enthusiasm.
“When I first joined Gungahlin six or seven years ago, I didn’t strive to be the first-grade coach,” he said.
“I guess I feel a sense of pride, that you’re a part of something that’s been built over a long period of time.”
Under long-time Head Coach Marcial Munoz and Caggiano, the club played some sparkling football in 2022, although could not maintain the consistency needed to overcome their fluctuating bursts of winning runs. Rather than focusing on this, the newly-instated coach opts to focus on the positives.
“If you look back at last season it was still a phenomenal achievement to finish second,” Caggiano insisted.
“It’s just the minor details and that’s what we’ve been focusing on week to week.”
These minor details have been the only change in Gungahlin’s style of play since Munoz left, with Caggiano insisting on maintaining the methods of his predecessor.
“The principles and the methodologies of how we play are the same,” he said.
“If you look at every coach in Australia and overseas, many like to have possession and have the ball, but a lot do it in diverse ways.
“That is the imprint of our club. If you look across even the women’s programs, we all play the same way, it’s just minor tweaks that I have implemented, and differences in specific moments.”
The continued use of Gungahlin’s philosophy has served them well, currently having lost only once, and sitting in third place on the National Premier League (NPL) table after seven games.
Caggiano employs the trademark Gungahlin attacking, possession-based football that has seen his team average three goals per game. The coach has admitted however, how clean sheets tend to come at a premium, having kept just five in 2022.
“I’d love to win games by the number of goals we’re scoring to nil, but we are an attacking-branded team,” he said.
“We have a focus on controlling the game, on always looking to attack our opponents, so of course when you’re looking to do that for ninety minutes there can be some weaknesses.”
The success of the season gone, was largely due to a squad that fit the club’s attacking football style, with a wide variety of goalscorers in 2022.
Overall, the club have retained most of that squad, with notable contributors including NPL heavyweight Philippe Bernabo-Madrid, top scoring winger from last season Sam Habtemariam, and midfield talisman Josh Gaspari, who have ensured that the club are on track for another high-scoring season.
However, there have still been some significant losses for Caggiano’s side, especially in the attacking third. Jeremy Habtemariam and Will Roberts have left for Victoria, whilst Leon Michl has moved to the German sixth tier. These absentees up front were assessed in the preseason by the coaching staff.
“Marcial and I started to look at it [the squad] at the end of last season, and kind of look at where we needed to strengthen,” he disclosed.
“We did [address the attacking third] and that’s why we were pretty quick to snap up Maxx [Green] and Jackson [Paesler], we saw their potential, and we saw a younger age profile of players that we can continue to develop.”
Such signings as Green and Paesler have retained the attacking threat of the season gone by, with Green himself bagging six goals in seven games already.
Aside from the front line, midfielder Antoni Timotheou’s arrival has proven to be a positive, having already picked up a handful of assists, while Fernando Jorquera’s signature has coincided with two crucial strikes from fullback.
Not only does Caggiano want to get the best out of these new signings, but also players in United’s youth setup, having worked in the lower age-groups for many years.
“It’s always been our approach [promoting young players] ever since Marcial took over, but we don’t promote for the sake of it…they’ve got to be good enough,” the coach said.
“There’s a group of u23s…they train with us for one or two sessions a week, so we can slowly integrate them in.”
While fans will have ambitions of a second consecutive title challenge, Caggiano does not feel the need to look too far ahead.
“It’s a cliché but if you don’t focus week to week, you’ll find yourself in a position where you’re drawing or losing football games,” he said.
“My first main goal was to win my first cup game and my first league game to be honest, being a new first grade coach. If we get our performances right, and if we go out onto the pitch and get the results, that is what will determine our position.”
WORDS: Sam Watson