Regional bragging rights will be on the line this Saturday night in Mackay as Cairns club Edge Hill United take on NPL Queensland team Magpies Crusaders United in the final preliminary round of the FFA Cup.
Edge Hill player-coach Crios O’Hare says he is “hopeful but also realistic” about his side’s chances in the David and Goliath battle.
“We are coming up against a good NPL side who are together three or four times a week and are very fit and organised,” said O’Hare.
A party of 27 Edge Hill players, coaches, sponsors and life members will fly out from Cairns on Saturday morning for one of the most important games in the club’s history.
A snatch-and-grab win for Edge Hill would see them become the first community club north of Brisbane to qualify for the FFA Cup Round of 32.
The odds may be stacked against them but if any regional community team can knock off an NPL side, it is Edge Hill.
The club has been utterly dominant in North Queensland over the past two seasons, winning every trophy in sight.
To get to this stage of the tournament, Edge Hill have scored 21 goals as they knocked out Mareeba Bulls, Southside Comets, Stratford Dolphins and Brothers Townsville.
Incredibly, before last Sunday’s 4-3 loss in the FNQ Premier League, Edge Hill had enjoyed a record-breaking 30-game winning streak across three competitions that stretched back to September 2019.
The senior men’s side has won back-to-back FNQ Premierships and Grand Finals, as well as two consecutive victories in the Crad Evans Cup, a traditional end-of-season match between the top sides in Cairns and Townsville.
But all good things must come to an end and O’Hare believes Sunday’s shock loss will be “a good wake-up call” ahead of this weekend’s must-win FFA Cup clash in Mackay.
It is no secret that Edge Hill have attracted many of the best players in the Far North, including several with experience in the NPL. But O’Hare said the coaching staff have made a conscious effort to integrate youth players into the senior team.
“When I was interviewed for the job a couple of years ago, I made the point that Edge Hill is a massive club with a huge junior base,” said O’Hare.
“As an amateur club, it needs to be a priority to bring through junior players and give them a taste of what its like to be in a senior team environment.
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve probably brought in 12 players from the youth team. That, for me, is as big an achievement as winning the treble twice in a row.”
Indeed, Edge Hill has become a primary producer of both men’s and women’s talent for NPL clubs down south.
Edge Hill alumni currently plying their trade in the big leagues include Josh Pin and Ashleigh Amadio (Eastern Suburbs), Kaine Salmon (Brisbane Strikers), Thomas Waddingham and Aaron Dempsey (Brisbane Roar Academy), Molly Waddingham (Moreton Bay United), Kylie and Monica Vecchio (Souths United), La-Tesha Foster and Rose Calvert (The Gap FC).
“As much as we aspire to develop and retain our juniors to play for our men’s and women’s senior teams, we very much encourage those that wish to leave for university or work or a football career,” said club President and Technical Director Michael Falchetti.
Beyond this season, Edge Hill are well placed to participate in a Champions League-style Northern Conference, which from 2022 will bring together the top two sides from Mackay, Townsville and Cairns.
Falchetti is supportive of the concept, believing the opportunity to play in a stronger league will bolster amateur clubs throughout regional Queensland.
“The better the competition, the better the outcomes for everybody – particularly the players,” said Falchetti.
“If our goal is to develop players and to qualify for World Cups – male and female – that goal should be the same for Cairns as it is for Brisbane and Sydney.”
For now, though, all attention is focused on Saturday’s FFA Cup game – a moment that Falchetti says is 18 months in the making.
Edge Hill’s plan to qualify for the Round of 32 was first hatched in December 2019, and while the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the Cup in 2020, the ambition was rolled over to 2021.
The dream of appearing on the national stage of the competition has sent a bolt of energy throughout the entire club. Crowds are up and the place is “buzzing”, said Falchetti.
In line with the club’s development-first ethos, all 20 squad members who played a part in the FFA Cup run will make the trip south to Mackay.
“It’s great for our club and for our region to be a part of this competition,” said O’Hare.
“I’ve made a point of making sure that everybody in our squad gets to come down for the experience, because it’s something they’ll never forget.
“Magpies Crusaders will be tough to beat, but we are excited and ready for the challenge.”
Watch Magpies Crusaders United v Edge Hill United LIVE on FQ Facebook and YouTube.