Underdogs set for FFA Cup David versus Goliath clash
THE main difference is time.
Englishman Luke Byles says National Premier League clubs endure the longest pre-season anywhere in the football world, just like their A-League counterparts - about three months long.
His Heidelberg United side usually trains three times a week, if not four depending on when its matches are. The players are required to look after their bodies both in structured recovery sessions and while away from the club.
They do in-depth analysis of opposition teams and coaches go to scout their upcoming opponents.
But while A-League players generally train in the morning and are at home at night, NPL players like those at Heidelberg most often run around on weeknights after a long day at work.
Byles, a junior coach and Heidelberg's captain, said among his teammates were tilers, removalists, baristas, painters, hairdressers, car salesmen and full-time students.
And so Tuesday night's FFA Cup clash with A-League side Perth Glory at Olympic Village in Heidelberg is that David versus Goliath proposition where the part-timers have their crack at the professionals in the sport's great leveller - 90 minutes on the same pitch, 11 v 11.
With talk of the need for a second division, it will be clubs like Heidelberg - if not Heidelberg itself, the current NPL Victoria ladder leader - that will be jostling for a place in the nationwide second-tier competition if and when it comes to fruition.
Heidelberg star Adrian Zahra, who has played at Melbourne Heart and Tuesday night's opponent Perth, is adamant that plenty of his young teammates are more than capable of stepping up to the A-League level.
Again, like Byles, Zahra said the main difference between his current teammates and those with which he played with in his previous professional life is the gift of time.
"We're playing 30-35 games a season and the scheduling is very tight," Zahra said.
"It's very professional in terms of the way we go about our training, the way our bodies are prepared and tactically it is as well.
"But I guess one of the main differences is that we need to find that time in between people working and not working.
"A lot of these young boys are putting in that extra work because they've got those aspirations of playing at the highest level they can.
"Realistically, good NPL teams can match it with A-League teams. And so then if individual players on those NPL teams get that extra time to train and play full-time, the sky is the limit for them.
"There are so many players out there who can go to the extra level with that little bit more investment of time in them."
Heidelberg will have the chance to net some extra cash on Tuesday night, with the NAB Golden Goals program donating $2500 to grassroots clubs for every goal they score against A-League sides during the FFA Cup.