Out of the ashes of a failed finals campaign last season, Heidelberg United has risen to complete a remarkable record-breaking season capturing three of the four major trophies it contested in 2017.
Heidelberg United crowned their marathon season last Saturday by winning the Australian NPL title in Brisbane, defeating Brisbane Strikers 2-0 in the final at Perry Park. There may have only been a crowd of just over 1000 to watch the match, but a significant number of the club’s loyal supporters made the trip up to watch the Bergers become the first Victorian team to capture the national NPL title.
Winning the national title also rewards the Bergers with automatic entry into the Rd of 32 in the FFA Cup next season. In Saturday’s final, the Bergers struck late in the first half through a first time Adrian Zahra shot after the ball rebounded off Strikers’ keeper Zac Speedy, who halted an Alex Schiavo run into the box. The Strikers’ keeper was again in the thick of it for the Bergers’ second goal when he dropped a high ball into the box under a Sean Ellis challenge. Ellis pounced on the spilt ball slotting the ball into an empty net. Ellis went on to receive the John Kosmina Medal for man of the match ahead of other Bergers’ players who put in good performances, including centre back Jordan Wilkes and full back Josh Wilkins.
Asked to comment on what winning the National NPL title means to the club, coach George Katsakis responded, “The grand final at local level could’ve capped everything off. But failing that, obviously this one being, what I believe is a bigger trophy and a bigger event, means the world to the whole club. It’s historic because the records will show that Heidelberg is the first Victorian team to win the Australian Championship. You’ve won three out of four major trophies at NPL level. I mean there’s a record there to be broken now and not many teams will be able to achieve that.”
On the question of where the national title win leaves Heidelberg in terms of national ranking, Katsakis says, ” I’m just going to say it the way it is. It’s the number one NPL team in the country. I think that’s what we were playing for. We were playing for the Australian Championship and to be number one in the country. So undoubtedly , especially with the amount of success, I don’t think anyone can argue with that.”
There can be little doubt Heidelberg’s season has been exceptional on all counts. The stats back it up. Three major trophies, they beat grand finalists after extra time in the Victorian NPL final, they were quarterfinalists in the FFA Cup all amounting to 40 games played in all competitions, 30 wins and 86 goals scored. And all that from a semi-professional club. Coach Katsakis believes “It’s a plan [that’s] gone very well. It’s something that we worked towards and set ourselves [as] a target. I certainly think the depth of the squad was the most significant factor. No doubt, not having played in the grand final last year (when Heidelberg lost to arch rivals South Melbourne in the semifinal of the Victorian NPL series) drove us further to that goal. All those things, if you put them together make the ingredients to want to win.”
So what’s left for Heidelberg to achieve in future on the national stage? Short of achieving what seems a pipe dream of winning the FFA Cup, a second consecutive national NPL title would look more than impressive on a CV, when the FFA eventually decides to expand the league or allow ambitious NPL clubs the chance to compete in a second-tier competition.