Fresh off their first National Premier League (NPL) grand final victory in over 20 years, Monaro Panthers FC are eager to continue their winning ways heading into the 2023 season. Former assistant coach Ian Worthington will take over as head coach after the departure of Frank Cachia at the end of 2022.
I sat down with Ian to discuss the hopes and ambitions for the upcoming season and how things have progressed both on and off the field.
Q. Last season was a historic season for Monaro, winning the treble [Charity Shield, Fed Cup, and GF] and it was also the first Grand Final victory in over 20 years. Is it fair to say that this was coming for some time now?
A. Yeah, it was a build-up of about a two-year process. When I came into the club as an assistant with Frank Cachia, we built a team that did very well the year before. We had some players move out, we bought some new players in, and I suppose the success started a year ago with us convincingly winning the Charity Shield against Cooma Tigers, and it set the tone and our expectations for the year.
We ended up going on a pretty successful FA cup run. Our league campaign had its ups and downs, and we were doing enough to catch Gungahlin and Canberra, Croatia. Ultimately we made it through to the finals series and made it through a very tricky Grand Final, which enabled us to win several trophies.
Q. Your coaching background in England is pretty incredible, being a coach in the youth academies and under-21’s squad/s at Manchester City, Burnley, and Bolton Wanderers. How has that prepared you as you step up into the head coaching job?
A. I always look to transfer my learning from what I’ve learned in England. It’s a fantastic environment to work in professionally. A lot of the boys in the Canberra region are relatively young, and I take what I’ve learned working in the under-21’s team, particularly with Bolton. We’ve had players that have played for Arsenal in the Premier League, Zach Clough, who is now playing for Adelaide United over here, and the likes of Adam La Fondre at Sydney FC.
The day-to-day professional environment I’ve worked in differs from the semi-professional environment; you’ve got to cram more in and get through things quickly.
Q. Now that Frank [Cachia] has stepped away from coaching, have you implemented a succession plan to make sure that the team is successful for many years to come?
A. We like to build a solid platform. If we look at this year’s goals and targets, we look at building a solid, organised defensive platform. I’m not a negative coach, but I like to see that defending is an important part of our game, and we build on from there by being more fluid and creative throughout the front and middle areas of the field.
Monaro Panthers is not just a first grade. We’ve had great success with our under-23 over the last few years. They won the Grand Final like we did, and we’ve got some talented young boys coming through our system. We are not just a first-grade club.
Q. Looking ahead to the upcoming season, do you believe that you will have a big target on your back coming off a superb season last year?
A. It does, but we love a challenge. This football club has worked for many years to build itself to back up to where we were last year. Now it’s about cementing that over the course of many years.
Frank [Cachia], we did a great job last year, but we don’t want it just to be a one-off. When people say, ‘you need to achieve what you achieved last year’, I disagree with that. We need to go one better. We didn’t win the minor premiership last year, so we aim to win that this year.
Q. How is pre-season going? How has your team changed since last season?
A. Every club has players going in and out every season during the transfer window. We lost a few players interstate. Josh Calabria is going to Melbourne, Darren Bailey to Griffith and Andre Carle is down to Adelaide. Three big players played a huge part in our campaign last season, plus a few others who moved to a different club in the ACT for different reasons.
One thing we have managed to do with our great years last year is attract some fantastic, young and experienced players into our team this year, namely, who we consider being one of the top players not just in this region but in the whole of the NPL across Australia in Roco Strika. All clubs know him as being a top player. Rocco has come back fitter. He’s flying and ready to go. We have go the youth of Connor Mynott-Smith, a highly regarded player in the Australian School Boys program. We have also managed to re-sign the likes of Jordan Thurtell, Gabriel Cole, and Michael Johns. It just goes to show not only the strength in the starting 11 but also the depth that we believe in having in the squad.
Q. It sounds like there is a huge eagerness amongst the team to do even better than last year. How do you think this will affect this upcoming season?
A.That will build a platform and sets us up for the season. It’s not the be-all and end-all, as in if we win that that’s everything. But it sets the standard, and it’s our first chance to show Canberra how strong we are going to be this year.
The Monaro Panthers will kick off their NPL title defence when they face Cooma Tigers FC on Saturday 1 April at Riverside Stadium in Queanbeyan. You can catch all the Capital Football NPL action all season long live on BarTV Sports.
Original photos by Dion Stergiopoulos