After years at Monaro Panthers Football club two young men get their chance at first grade Football as their club looks to recover from a dismal season.

Daniel Felizzi strikes a free kick // Photo by Matthew Nicoletti

Daniel Felizzi, 17, has been at Monaro since he was five years old, playing through juniors and into competitive Football having never left the club, bleeding green and black through and through.

“Monaro have been good to me,” he said. “It keeps getting better and better, I keep getting more and more opportunities to excel. It is a great club to be at.”

Sam Roestbakken, 18, has been at Monaro for a combined 8 seasons having played for Monaro in juniors and four years in a row for his current spell at the club.

“The club have given me the opportunity to establish myself here and I want to help them to compete with the top clubs,” he said.

Both players were pillars of the club’s under 20’s Premier League team last season that made a run to the final, only narrowly losing to Belconnen United in extra time.

Head coach Graeme Path discussed the qualities of these two players. “Roestbakken has great energy and commitment to training and Felizzi has terrific speed and is improving his decision making on and off the ball every week,” he said.

Monaro, lost the majority of their first team players at the end of last season, which has led to an injection of youth from their under 20’s side. Roestbakken and Felizzi have had a taste of this grade before, having sparingly appeared for the first team last season.

“It was good, it helped me recognise what the standard for that type of Football is like,” said Roestbakken.

“Yes it was good, very intense and pretty nerve racking,” added Felizzi.

Last year the first grade team had a disappointing season; finishing second last with only two wins and two draws. Plath stated that last seasons expectations were not realistic and that the club has a setback due to their location.

“Last season we set our expectations too high and did not take into account the quality of the opposition,” he said. “We also have inherent difficulties due to our geographical location, it is difficult to attract players because a lot of them feel Queanbeyan is a bit far away for them.”

The upside to their lack of experience is that they have a core group of successful players that know each other very well. The coach and players believe this can partially make up for their lack of experience.

Sam Roestbakken wandering the pitch // Photo by Matthew Nicoletti

“I believe that will help with team chemistry and commitment to training, as they are friends on and off the field,” Plath said.

Roestbakken also praised the team chemistry. “We have great team morale, usually in most teams there are a few people who don’t get along, not for us though, as we are very good mates on and off the field,” he said.

To improve on last season’s results the team is going to take a more pragmatic approach. This approach will be taken to improve their defensive frailties, in which they conceded 48 goals in 16 games. Both players stated that their coach wants them to emulate current EPL leaders Leicester City in terms of their tactical approach to games and playing as the underdogs.

“Plathy has been having us playing with a five-man midfield to keep it compact and hit on the counter with the pace in our side,” said Roestbakken. “He told us that the top clubs in the league can master this tactical approach.

“He also said that we can use Leicester as inspiration as they were underdogs with no one expecting anything from them, no one expects anything from us either,” Felizzi added.

The team is not only looking for improvement on last season, however, some believe it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to consider challenging for the top four.

“Making top four could be possible, it will be very difficult; however, I would love to see Monaro back competing,” said Roestbakken.

Plath, though, sees this season as a transition period for the team. “Realistically we have to look to improve our game and build a platform for our young players to stay on so next season we will compete. However, at the very least we want to finish above second last place,” he said.

Plath’s goal stems from Monaro’s finishes in the past five seasons – last or second last. Now this year, Plath, Roestbakken, Felizzi and the rest of the squad will hope to prove history wrong and guide Monaro to a successful season.

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