NPL SA season 2022 has come and gone after what was a rollercoaster season across 22 matchdays and a month of finals.
The Inner Sanctum looks at the ups and downs of the year that was in South Australian football.
What we liked:
Simply the best, despite the quality of the rest
Campbelltown, the Comets, and even the MetroStars were hot on its tail, but Adelaide City excelled against all challengers to defend its title. Paul Pezos’ side was the team to watch in 2022 and it rarely disappointed its fans, playing scintillating football while only losing one league game.
2022 ended for City just like 2021 did, with the Black and White raising the trophy at the expense of Barney Smith’s Adelaide Comets.
This time, along with the Championship, City collected both the Federation Cup and the Premiership on its way, proving to South Australia that it was ‘simply the best’ when the chips were down.
The kids are alright
After a couple of seasons that saw it flirting with relegation and an abhorrent start to 2022, the Adelaide United Youth side had started being considered as serious relegation candidates. The side overcame its slow start and gelled as a team, with the development of its young players clear to see.
The Young Reds reached the finals for the first time since 2018 and many players were recognised for their excellence with various opportunities.
Despite bowing out in an unfortunate fashion to the MetroStars, the Young Reds showed that the future of South Australian football is bright. The challenge now is to sustain that output while also searching for greater consistency in 2023.
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No home, no problem
With Polonia Reserve claimed for the South Road upgrades and its new home still in the building process, Croydon FC continued its temporarily nomadic existence in 2022. Travis Dodd’s side would once again play games out of Jack Smith Park, while not having a permanent or ideal training base.
Despite that, Croydon dug deep and managed to play finals. A strong back line and a more than capable midfield being the features; Croydon may be a forward away from seriously competing in 2023 when it should finally be able to welcome its squad and the South Australian football community to its new home.
Olympic live to fight another day
Adelaide Olympic has had a turbulent couple of seasons that have derailed the ambitious club’s trajectory. In its 2019 peak, Olympic were going deep into finals while also winning silverware.
The club would have hoped that 2022 would be a rebound year but it was anything but that, Olympic even flirting with relegation.
Its tendency to never say die and achieve improbable comebacks consistently was a big reason that Olympic stayed up, but it cannot solely rely on that in 2023.
The club has the off-season to re-energise and recruit with intent, and as an ambitious organisation the willingness will be there and the league is better for it, but will it be enough to steer clear from trouble in 2023?
What we didn’t like
Despite a solid season, the Comets did not finish their campaign in what has become their customary top two positions. Many thought Barney Smith’s side would not reach a fourth consecutive Grand Final, but despite difficulties, it was once again present on the final day of the season.
It did not take long for things to go south; young defender Tom Giannakopoulos was sent off early against Adelaide City and Nicholas Bucco converted the subsequent free kick, and the Black and White were never going to let that advantage slip.
The Comets once again proved what a great unit they are, but for the fourth consecutive season, Grand Final day was their cruel Achilles heel.
Non-competitive relegation battle
Coming into season 2022, most followers of South Australian football felt like Cumberland United and West Torrens Birkalla were the most likely relegation candidates.
Cumberland entered the year having lost its equivalent of a guardian angel in Tom Briscoe to the Comets, while Birks had not added much to the squad that earned its promotion.
As expected, the two sides struggled for consistency and quality throughout the year and went down with a week to go in the competition.
Birks went down by seven points, while Cumberland was three points and a whopping 16 goals behind Adelaide Olympic, which did not feel an incredible amount of heat throughout the year for its own survival.
A highlight of 2021 was that the two promoted sides, South Adelaide and Sturt, took South Australia’s top flight by storm. Both the Panthers and the Lions reached the finals series in their first season back at the NPL and even won three finals between them.
Year two was not as kind, with South Adelaide seeing its coach step down, missing finals, and even suffering an eight-goal defeat to Adelaide United Youth.
Meanwhile, despite seeing its new home open, Sturt was unable to capitalise on its string of home games (10 out of 11 to see out the season), only winning three of them to also miss finals. Both sides will be hoping to find some consistency in 2023.
Beograd backline dismantled on the run home
Unlike the relegated Birkalla, FK Beograd had an exciting first season back in the NPL. Damian Mori’s side was strong at the back, dynamic in the midfield, explosive in attack – led by his own son Josh – and looked likely to make finals.
Unfortunately, as the season closed, Beograd’s center-back partnership was thrown a curveball. Centre back Cooper Nunn received a scholarship to play college football in the USA, while Brian Kaltack received an injury replacement contract at the Central Coast Mariners.
Beograd fell in the final hurdle and failed to make finals; it is now facing an uphill battle rebuilding its squad under a new coach for season 2023.
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