Future Knights stars keen to build on positive season
FOOTBALL: After a terrific season of youth development, the Ipswich Knights under-20 side are chasing for some bonus success this weekend.
The Ipswich club's players of the future have a showdown with top side Sunshine Coast in Sunday's 6.30pm semi-final at Ballinger Park in Buderim. The match was originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
Having finished the regular season in fourth place, the Knights have to win to advance further in this year's Football Queensland Premier League final series.
However, loyal Ipswich coach Andy Ogden knows his team is capable of upstaging the competition leaders, having matched them twice this season. The Knights beat Sunshine Coast 2-1 in April at Saturday's venue before losing by the same score at Bundamba on July 28.
"We are one of the few teams who have beaten them this year,'' Ogden said.
"Both were good quality games.''
But while acknowledging Sunshine Coast deserved top spot and despite the late draw change, Ogden was backing his youth-laden side.
"We're heading up there with some confidence,'' he said. "And on the day, if we play as well as we can, it will be a toss of the coin who wins it.''
The Knights secured fourth spot with 14 wins and two draws.
The club's under 18 side only missed qualifying for the finals by one win.
However, Ogden said this year's development approach had proven positive, especially with a number of his under-20 players promoted to the Knights Premier League senior side.
At the start of the season, Ogden and under-18 coach Bob Maclot chose 32 players from trials to train together for the club's under-20 and under-18 sides.
"We thought in that group of players, everyone had the potential to play at the 20's level if they worked really hard,'' he said.
Ogden had worked with a number of the players in recent years, with some coming from the former Brisbane Force club.
But as the Knights top team lost some players this season, it created unexpected opportunities for some under-20 footballers.
Players like Robbie Baker, Matthew White, Mathew Drummond and Giuliano Marconato suddenly were invited to play in the higher level FQPL competition. They received regular first team game time during the season.
"In terms of development, with the first team having a few hiccups early on, that meant that the better players out of the 20s moved forward quicker than we probably anticipated,'' Ogden said.
"But that's not a bad thing. It gave them exposure to a higher level and showed them what level you have to get to.
"I had my rule that if they played for the first team, they wouldn't back up for the 20s.''
That situation also gave some of the Knights youngest under-18 players a chance to move up into the 20s.
"It's a credit to them that they did manage to go up because quite a few of our players are still 17,'' Ogden said.
While the under-18s just missed making the finals, Ogden was heartened to see the group broaden their experience.
"It would have been nice if the 18s made it (into the finals) because they played some really good, attractive football,'' the under-20s coach said.
But heading into the finals, it is now up to the Flyn Park-captained U20 combination to see how strongly they can finish the season.
"They have acquitted themselves really well,'' said Ogden, a former Coalstars Premier League player and dedicated Ipswich club coach.
"It's all about learning.''