Fenech’s focus is home-grown talent, supporting APL dreams
FOOTBALL, soccer - whatever you may know it as - the sport that can truly call itself the world game is making waves in Australia.
With a World Cup year upon us and the A-League beginning to edge in on the traditional heavyweights of the Australian sporting landscape - rugby league and AFL - one can't help but feel that the round ball game is moving in the right direction.
The appointment of experienced former NRL head David Gallop seems to have done nothing but improve the status of the still fledgling product.
The success of the Western Sydney Wanderers has breathed new life into what is a rugby heartland, and the soccer Brisbane Roar is producing is some of the best ever seen in this country.
So, with the game looking relatively stable and healthy in the short-to-mid future, attention has turned to the second-tier National Premier League.
Expansion in 2015 is cause for excitement in central Queensland, particularly in Gladstone, as the CQ Mariners' bid begins to take shape.
Joe Fenech, Football Queensland regional development officer of Central Queensland Zone, is heading the Gladstone-based CQ Mariners bid.
The head coach is already developing local juniors for the club; a club which he hoped would form a part of the fabric of Gladstone.
"We've been accepted for the 2015 National Premier League, which is good. So we're planning on having 2014 as preparation for it; so teams that we pick from under-11 to under-15 will be teams we go into the NPL with next year," he said.
With CQ Mariners set to field a senior side in 2015, rather than look to import talent, Fenech is adamant he wants to build the club from the ground up and develop home-grown players, but he won't be able to do it alone.
"Every technical director, be it here or in Cairns, it's their job to identify talent, and for me in particular in central Queensland, to identify talent and move it up the pathway," Fenech said.
"That's what I'm trying to instil in local clubs; if a local coach sees that he's got a talented player, he or she should be bringing them to my attention, but there shouldn't be any restriction or pressure put on players or parents for a kid to leave a club, as long as it's to better themselves."
Football Queensland chief operating officer Ben Mannion could not confirm the Mariners were a lay down misere for the 2015 season, but praised Fenech's work and vision in preparation should the club become a part of the NPL.
"What Joe's trying to create is very good for the area," Mr Mannion said.
"Our numbers suggest it's (football) always been quite strong in regional areas."
Football Queensland could do worse than to grant the CQ Mariners an NPL licence, if the blueprint laid out by Fenech is any gauge.
"We're not going to be afraid of losing, we'll be playing an attacking brand of football in a possession-based situation," Fenech said.
"We're teaching our kids from the ages of five and six to keep possession of the ball, but to keep it with a purpose; in other words keep the ball, but do something with it going forward."
The enigmatic Fenech, with over 30 years' experience and some of the highest coaching qualifications one can attain, including a UEFA A licence, has dreams of a club where kids can work their way up through the youth ranks into the senior sides and, eventually, move into the A-League and beyond.
For me, even if there wasn't the restriction on player imports I would still restrict it, as my personal agenda and focus is on developing local players.
"How I see it is a local club would refer their most talented players to us (the Mariners), then the Mariners would refer their most talented players to the A-League and on it goes," he said.
"The Brisbane teams have plenty of finances and they're always going to be strong... but I'd like to stick to the spirit of the NPL and focus on development and getting players into the A-League."
While regional players may have been at some disadvantage in the past, Football Queensland's Ben Mannion hinted at some changes that would ensure the ropes to higher levels were being thrown in the direction of regional footballers.
"While we can't make distances any shorter, we're spending a lot of time and money on it," Mannion said.
"Brisbane Roar will play a part in that moving forward in creating player pathways; we want to create opportunities for all kids in regional areas."
It seems Fenech's mantra on developing local talent fits hand in glove with Football Queensland's ethos, which could see CQ Mariners ahead of other conglomerates pushing for an NPL berth.
"The NPL has a player points system which is what I think is a very good system which allows you two imports," he said.
"For me, even if there wasn't the restriction on player imports I would still restrict it, as my personal agenda and focus is on developing local players.
"It (relying on imports) defeats the purpose, that's the idea of having these kids out here, some nine-years old, so that they can see the pathway and see that it's their chance of playing at a higher level."
The self-sufficient club is already streets ahead of other ventures, with non-football related business revenue streams providing finances for the club, which already owns its grounds freehold, to develop facilities.
"We've got our priorities in terms of money we generate and we'd rather develop youngsters and start from the bottom up, rather than a lot of clubs that take money from junior registrations and spend it on the seniors," Fenech said.
Fenech hopes local clubs would get behind the fledgling club, with initiatives like offering gate and canteen takings from home games in the inaugural season to local clubs, as he said when it came down to it, the underlying goal was to get local products plying their trade at the highest level.
"It's our aim genuinely to have clubs understand that we're working together for the region and I want to stress that," he said.
"I coach 4800 kids through our Mariners program at schools and we're referring those kids aged 4-7 that want to play to the local clubs so we're feeding the junior ranks. So what we expect is local coaches to identify the better players and send them to us, so we can identify our better players and send them on to higher levels."
Football in the Gladstone region would be better for the introduction of an NPL side, with juniors having the chance to be exposed to high-level coaching and talent identification and, if Fenech's mantra rings true, the chance to become the best footballer they can.
"Our motto here at the Mariners is for the players, when better is possible, good's not enough, and for the coaches, there's no problems, only solutions," he said.
CQ MARINERS' VISION
- To create pathways for local players to move into the A-League and further
- To have sides from under-5 through to seniors competing in the state-wide competition
- To work in tandem with local clubs in identifying talent and exposing it to the highest levels of coaching and competition available
- To put back to local clubs through in-school programs aimed at boosting junior ranks of local clubs
- To teach the FFA blueprint for football in Australia, to improve technical abilities and produce top-level footballers