Words: Sonia Emmanuel
After a thirteen-year hiatus, the O’Connor Knights returned to the NPL in style with a 6-2 victory over Canberra Olympic on home soil. Saturday’s game captured the imagination of the O’Connor community as locals gathered to bask in the significance of the day and the excitement was palpable even way before a ball was kicked in anger.
O’Connor Knights Assistant Coach, Aleks Trninic, couldn’t have been happier with the return of the club to the highest level of National Premier League football and getting such a spectacular win for their first match was the cherry on top.
“We’ve been waiting 13 years to get back into the top league,” Trninic said. “We have had a couple false starts, a couple of delayed starts, but to come away with a 6-2 win with ten players out because of COVID, visiting the Formula 1 Grand Prix, and injuries, we are just over the moon.”
With exceptional transitional play, O’Connor moved superbly from the defensive line to switch seamlessly to attack with blistering pace and Trninic admitted that the Knights adjusted their tactics to each opponent, something that was clearly evident on Saturday.
“Olympics’ two stoppers are not exactly very fast so it was something we thought we could exploit, and it worked,” he said. “We hit the crossbar, we missed a penalty, we had one-on-ones, but we could have easily scored another four or five.”
The return to Canberra’s top league of football made for a monumental day and impacted not just the players, but the community and partners involved. A vast amount of work was dedicated into making the move into the NPL and O’Connor feels as though they are finally getting recognised for the talent they bring to the competition.
“On a personal level, it means a lot to us. We started this project. Everyone knows O’Connor was in the lower leagues, but we just put in a lot of work. We’re all volunteers here, and we just bleed O’Connor,” Trninic said.
“And on a club level, look around, we get our fans and everyone here, and we’re just happy to be where we belong, and I think we belong in the top tier.”
Trninic said his hopes for the forthcoming campaign in the elite tier were to not get carried away as this is just the first of many rounds of football to come. He hopes to not get relegated as any coach would, with anything else that follows being a bonus for the club.
The Knights face the Champions Tigers FC in their next fixture after the Easter break and Trninic is in the mindset that every game is played like a Grand Final, and this will be taken into the rounds ahead.
“We’ve already played Tigers twice in the preseason, they are very well-coached with Ryan Grogan. They’ve got quality players all over the park,” he said.
“But every game for us is like a Grand Final. We are a newly promoted team, we don’t have any easy games, we need to take each opponent as they come, just prepare and do what we did today hopefully.”
Aiming to continue their red-hot start, O’Connor will be taking every game by the scruff of its neck, ensuring that their NPL return is not in vain instead hoping they will be in the competition for many years to come.
IMAGE: Courtesy of O’Connor Knights