Australia Cup R32 Preview
Written by Antonis Pangonis
When Danny Graystone took over the reins at MetroStars leading up to the 2023 NPL SA season, one of his goals was to return the club to the national stage of the Australia Cup.
After achieving his aim and winning silverware, the head coach spoke to Front Page Football about the side's ambitions in the competition ahead of their game against NPL WA side Inglewood United.
After being appointed MetroStars head coach, Danny Graystone spoke to local media and clarified his ambitions for the new role. The incoming manager stated that despite the club's stability being attractive, he firmly believed the MetroStars should be winning titles, competing in finals, and appearing on the national stage.
With his first season in charge heading towards its conclusion, Graystone and his team have ticked off every item on his list. The MetroStars won the Federation Cup, the club's first major honour since 2017, while also being positioned at the NPL SA summit, likely heading into the Finals Series as premiers and heavy favourites for the championship.
"It is really pleasing for everyone, to be honest; everyone has worked tirelessly at the club just to get these outcomes, and it is very rare for a coach to come across a club that puts football decisions first before everything, and because of that, we are starting to achieve what we set out in the outset," Graystone shared on the club's achievements with FPF.
"There’s a lot of people that work behind the scenes, extremely hard, to build this. There is myself, my assistants, the strength and conditioning coaches, goalkeeping coaches, and the Football Director, Nik Kuzman. We’ve all worked extremely hard and been extremely focused.
"Did we all expect this to happen in the first year? Maybe not, it was more of a two to three-year plan, but the fact that we have gotten there so quickly is a testament to all the hours we have put in."
Players and fans were overjoyed with the MetroStars Federation Cup triumph because of the silverware the victory over Campbelltown City earned the club and because making the Final meant they returned to the national stage in the Round of 32 of the Australia Cup for the first time since 2017.
Graystone, who had prior Australia Cup experience at Cairns in 2018, when his side beat Armadale FC before being eliminated by Sydney FC, reflected on the importance of the competition for an ambitious club like MetroStars.
"It is really important, particularly with the club being quite vocal in its ambition to eventually be part of the National Second Division. I think it is important that we are on the national stage and representing South Australia, just to prove that we should be there," he said.
"The club can be really proud; this is where the club has been historically, winning the (NPL) National Championship in the past, and it is where they wanted to be back at. All the people that have been involved in the club from those days are back involved with the club again, and they are very excited about the future, so it is good to be a part of at the moment; the atmosphere around the club is just fantastic."
Regarding the Australia Cup, most NPL players usually dream of an away trip. Fans usually hope for A-League Men opposition, hoping their side becomes the next to cause a significant upset. While neither of those hopes was realised when MetroStars drew Inglewood United at home, Graystone shared he was pleased with the outcome.
"It is one of those fairytale competitions that you want to try and progress in, and it gives us something else as a squad to focus on and compete on besides the league. I was kind of pleased we didn’t draw an A-League team in the Round of 32 because there are so many games at this stage, so attention can be taken off that," Graystone shared.
"When we (Cairns FC) played in the Round of 16 against Sydney FC, we were one of the live fixtures, and it would be good to get one of those draws again. There are going to be a couple of A-League clubs that go out against each other this round, so we could draw anyone. But the focus right now is on getting through the Round of 32 first and foremost, and who knows how far you can go from there."
The MetroStars have an almost unassailable lead at the summit of the NPL SA. Meanwhile, Inglewood United enters this clash sitting bottom of the Western Australian competition. Despite that fact, Graystone has made it clear neither he nor his players will be taking their opponents lightly, instead mentally preparing for a side with nothing to lose.
"The Cup can create a lot of excitement, especially for them when they are travelling interstate and playing, but also they can just come here and play with freedom. They will probably come into the game as the slight underdogs because of their league position, but we certainly don’t see it that way; they’re going to be a real tough challenge for us," Graystone shared on the prospect of taking on Inglewood United.
"The way I work with our team is making sure we are prepared for anything, and we work on solutions to break down teams if they drop into a real low block, and how to counterattack teams that come and press against us very high.
"We prepare for everything, and it is going to be an exciting night for us, and we’ve had a few big nights of football already this season. They come into this with no pressure, really, and with the excitement of an away trip, so we’ve got to be careful. But we are confident if we play our brand of football, we will create chances, and it is up to us to take them."
Along with his research on Inglewood, Graystone has advised Adam Holmes, one of his assistant coaches who recently joined from Perth Glory, for a clearer picture of what to expect from their Western Australian opposition. The coach shared Holmes has provided some important context and information to supplement his research, confirming the challenge his side is facing.
"Like all Western Australian teams, they are going to be very strong, very aggressive, very physical, and they are going to be a real tough challenge for us, as you would expect in the Round of 32. But it is one that we are ready for," Graystone added.
The 2023 Australia Cup will provide a special moment for the MetroStars, as for the first time in the club's history, they will host a match in this competition at their home, T.K. Shutter Reserve, in Klemzig. In their previous Australia Cup "home" games, the club hosted the fixtures at the APEX Parks Football Centre in Angle Park.
When Football Australia communicated to the club about nominating a list of potential grounds to play at, Graystone was one of the many people at Metro who stated that if the match was in Adelaide and not against an A-League side, they wanted it at T.K. Shutter. The head coach shared that this moment is for all the members of the club's community that make it what it is. But it can also give his side a crucial edge on the field.
"The players deserve it, the supporters deserve their team playing at home, and of course, we train on artificial, and we play on artificial, so it offers us a slight advantage to teams that potentially don’t," Graystone said.
"Every advantage you get in the Round of 32 you’ve got to take because we want to progress [in] the Australia Cup as well as the league if we can, so it is really important for us that this first game is at home. Bringing the Cup to T.K. Shutter is pretty special. Hopefully, we can get a lot of supporters out on the night."
It may not be the most exciting Australia Cup draw an NPL club has ever received, but for the MetroStars as a club, it is almost ideal. The squad are staying physically grounded as they approach the NPL SA Finals Series and also get to play this game, against an inconsistent NPL side, in the place they are most comfortable in.
Inglewood will undoubtedly give the MetroStars a fight, but the quality of Danny Graystone's side, should they play to their potential, should be enough to ground the struggling Western Australian outfit. Should the MetroStars continue the one-sided nature of South Australian-Western Australian Cup clashes, and the club enters the Round of 16 and the NPL SA Finals, as the last FIFA Women's World Cup matches are played in South Australia, Klemzig may be the place to be to watch high-quality football in Adelaide before the A-Leagues seasons kick-off.
We thank Antonis for his match preview.
Image credit - Adam Butler