O’Connor Knights enjoyed a welcome return to NPL football in 2022 in their first season back in the top-flight for 13 years. The Knights announced their return in style defeating perennial powerhouses Canberra Olympic in a 6-2 thrashing, which set the tone for the rest of their season.
O’Connor showed a lot of grit and determination through lots of tough encounters over the course of last season, featuring in nine games that were decided by only a single goal. The club’s technical director Aleks Trninic was immensely proud of the team during those tough games.
“Miro Trninic knows how to get the best out of these boys, and we have a never say die attitude,” he said. “Mistakes are allowed to happen, but Miro constantly demands nothing but the best out of the players.”
The Knights went on, defying all expectations to finish in the top four, sadly falling to eventual Grand Final winners, Monaro Panthers. O’Connor started recruiting players very early on during the off-season to help prepare for the brand-new campaign.
Last season the Knights had the second worst defence in the competition, so it was a major priority to secure some top young defenders to help bolster their back line.
As part of that strong recruitment effort, the Knights managed to sign eight players including the entire back line from West Canberra Wanderers [Lachlan Fields, Harrison Palić, Connor Bill, James Driscoll] as well as Blaise Vlazlovski in the midfield.
“We leaked a lot of silly goals last year,” Trninic said. “These are all young boys [21 and 22 years of age] who are all highly talented, fresh and hungry, and I think we as a club made the right move in signing all those players, so hopefully we shouldn’t be conceding that many goals anymore.”
Another major priority for the Knights was to retain a lot of their senior players, guys who had been around the club for a while and know what it takes to win. The re-signings of new club captains; Micheal Adams and Patrick O’Rourke, two players who were in the 2022 NPL team of the year, was the club’s number one priority heading into the off-season.
The retention of key players has always been at the top of the list for the Knights to show respect to those who have represented the club at such a high level for several years.
“We approach those players who we want to keep first, and then we seek to fill in the gaps,” Trninic revealed. “We go about our retention very early… you have to offer the respect to those players who have been with us for a while… and then we go looking for someone else if we need to replace them.”
With the rise and the success of the first-grade squad, the club isn’t shining away from developing the junior programs and creating pathways from under-6’s all the way up to under-23’s. Aleks Trninic took over as head coach of the under-23’s after round three, as the team put their early season struggles behind them to secure a finals birth.
The Knights eventually fell to local rivals Canberra Croatia in a thrilling 4-3 encounter at Riverside Stadium. Both first-grade and the 23’s kicked off their respective 2023 season in the same fashion, with both teams coming away with a draw as the Knights battled Canberra Croatia on the opening day, following up with the O’Connor derby against Olympic.
The Knights will face newly promoted Tuggeranong United in Round 3. You can catch all the action from 3pm live from O’Connor Enclosed or you can stream the match live on BarTV Sports.
Words: Dion Stergiopoulos