As he prepares his team for its last pre-season assignment, against Brisbane City this Saturday, new Brisbane Strikers senior team coach Chay Hews has all but completed the signing of the squad he will work with for his first season in charge.
Eighteen players have put pen to paper to be part of a squad that will have an emphasis on youth, with the oldest player being winger Jonti Richter who will turn 31 during the season. Two spots remain to be filled but Hews is well advanced with plans for those, with two players considering offers or awaiting administrative clearance.
Almost half (eight) of the eighteen players currently signed were not with the squad last season, although two of those – defenders Chris Maher and Jason Shade – are hardly new to the club. Maher came through its youth ranks and broke into senior football with the Strikers before leaving for a season with Rochedale Rovers, while Shade played a season and a half for the club in 2010 and 2011 before taking a two-year break from football.
Three players – defenders David Roby and Scot Coulson and goalkeeper Jacob Jarratt – have been promoted into the senior team from the club’s youth program, with several more youth players potentially waiting in the wings to compensate for the fact that two of the squad (strikers Matt Thurtell and Josh McVey) are on the comeback from serious knee injuries and will not be ready for the start of the season.
The eighteen players currently signed are as follows:
Goalkeepers: David Chambers, Jacob Jarratt
Defenders: Chris Maher, David Salin, Dan Partridge, Jason Shade, Scot Coulson, David Roby.
Midfielders: Alex Schiavo, Keenan Duimpies, Michael Angus, Chris Burley,
Forwards: Jonti Richter, Greg King, Chris Roulston, Matt Thurtell (pictured), Josh McVey, Josh Taylor
Hews said tonight he felt he had strengthened the squad in the areas that needed it and achieved a good balance between established players and ambitious newcomers.
“I think we’ve got the right mix of some experienced guys and hopefully the younger guys we’ve brought in are the ones we want in terms of ability and attitude. And they’re the guys that will probably make the difference for me in the end – those ones that are pushing the more established guys and biting at their heels and making them play well”, Hews said.
“I think I’m one of those coaches that wouldn’t hesitate to give someone a chance if they are proving to me that they are working hard and doing the right thing”.
But Hews admitted that in putting his squad together he had made some very difficult decisions to let players go. There will be no place in the squad for the likes of Alex Henderson, Nathan Ryland and Andy Callaghan, all of whom were often in last season’s starting eleven, and Hews made it clear this had impacted him personally in making the transition from player to coach.
“It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my whole football career, to be honest”, Hews said.
“Those guys, I’m actually mates with them and played a few seasons with them as teammates. So, since taking over the job some of the decisions I’ve had to make have been really tough.
“I’ve just tried to approach it as professionally as I could and I don’t think there’s any grudges or anger between the players and myself. The players have handled it well and understood my point of view and I’ve understood theirs.
“Some of the players that have left, it’s been their decision as well”, Hews continued. “But the toughest one for me, I guess, was probably Hendo (Henderson). I really like Hendo as a person and a player. He probably deserved a spot and it was there for him, but it just didn’t work out”.
All of the squad assembled by Hews to date have been on show in at least one or two pre-season games with the exception of King, Thurtell and McVey. Hews admitted the Strikers’ pre-season form has not looked convincing, but said this did not concern him.
“The pre-season has been disappointing in terms of results (but) I think I have been getting out of the games what I wanted to”, Hews said.
“It’s certainly given me a lot of things to work on at training and I think the boys have responded to it. The last loss (to Palm Beach) – I think it hurt them a little bit – and they’ve responded really well and they’ve come in and worked really hard”.
“In terms of results, none of those results matter. It’s in a couple of weeks that really matters. We are missing a few guys, I did try a few things, and obviously when you chop and change like that it is hard to get a consistent performance. You can’t blame the players for that”.
Hews said that Saturday’s friendly against City, who were last year’s NPL Queensland runners-up, should be just the kind of test his players needed a week out from the 2014 season kick-off. However, he would not be using it as a full dress rehearsal for the Strikers’ season opener against Redlands United who, he said, are a different kind of team to City.
“The result on Saturday – whether we win or lose – is not really important. It’s the week after”, Hews said.
“So there are a couple of things in particular that we’ve been working on and I want to make sure that we get those right. If we get those right on Saturday then we can start looking at other things for next week and for the next game”.