Can NPL ACT premiers Tigers FC advance through to the FFA Cup Round of 16? (Photo: Tigers FC NPL1/Facebook)

Tigers FC coach Ryan Grogan is well aware opponents APIA Leichhardt have reached the FFA Cup Round of 32 for a reason, and isn't underestimating the club despite two poor NPL seasons.

NPL club Tigers FC have every right to feel confident in next week’s FFA Cup clash against APIA Leichhardt.

The Cooma based side finished top of the ACT first division table at the season’s cancellation, and were awarded the Premiership and Championship accordingly.

After three months of no football, they’ll finally get another chance at glory against APIA on Wednesday, November 24.

It’s the second time Tigers FC has reached the Round of 32, after also qualifying in 2019. APIA meanwhile last reached this point in 2018, advancing to the quarter-finals before falling at the hands of Adelaide United 2-0.

APIA would go onto win the NPL NSW Championship in 2019, but has since seen a dramatic fall. It finished eighth out of 12 sides with a 6-3-8 record this season, and last in 2020.

Despite the recent downfall of the once National Soccer League premiers, they’ve redeemed themselves as one of the year’s 32 best teams in the country.

APIA defeated the Connells Point Rovers 4-0, Bonnyrigg White Eagles 2-1, Northern Tigers 2-1, and Hakoah Sydney City East 3-1 in its journey to Viking Park.

Despite being able to anticipate a potential Round of 32 match-up with A-League side Western Sydney Wanderers, Tigers coach Ryan Grogan appreciates full well the legacy that APIA carries.

“I’m not disrespecting APIA. I know how strong they are, I know how big they are, I know the history of the club, I grew up in Sydney,” Grogan told media on Tuesday.

“There’s no point looking beyond APIA because we know how big of a challenge that’s going to be. I’m fully aware of the challenge of next week, and I’m 100 per cent focused on that.”

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Vice-captain and keeper Jakob Cole echoed the coach’s sentiments, busy working away reviewing footage of the side’s attacking threats.

Former Sydney FC, Wellington and Central Coast striker Blake Powell and NPL veteran Franco Parisi will be at the top of his list, having scored four goals each in the NPL in 2021.

With APIA heading to their home ground, the keeper believes there’s multiple factors sitting in their favour.

“We’ve watched some videos on the players, on each individual player. I have for the forwards, watched penalties and things like that,” Cole said.

“We’ve just got to treat it like another game. It’s going to be tough, but if we get the nerves out it’ll be no problem. They’re coming to our house, so the pressure’s on them not us. We’ll just treat it that way.”

Part of the challenge of coming up against a side like APIA is an unfamiliarity with their style of play.

To start with, the two clubs compete in different competitions. While both are at the highest level of NPL football in their respective states, APIA represent New South Wales, Tigers the ACT.

APIA also parted ways with former coach John Calleja in the middle of March, appointing Paul Dee in his place. The decision came after a draw and two losses to start the year.

With only 14 matches of Dee’s APIA to observe, Grogan identified the challenges that has brought to his preparation for the match.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘have you had a look at APIA, what do you think they’re going to do?’ The reality is, what I think they’re going to do is based on information from six months ago,” he said.

“As much as I’m watching their footage to see what they were doing, I’m fully expecting most likely a different picture next week. The focus is on us to do what we do well, to make sure any picture they put in front of us is irrelevant.”

Getting match ready

Though the Tigers have had a long break from football, with Grogan describing the build-up to the match as similar to pre-season, it won’t hold them back from playing their best.

They’ve had two practice games against local sides already, with one more to follow on Wednesday night as final preparation.

Grogan has made use of those opportunities accordingly, seeing what his side needs to work on in their competitive return.

“What we’ve realised over the past couple of weeks is that there are a few bits and pieces that we need to work on,” he admitted.

“One of the gambles or one of the concerns that myself and the coaching staff might have had was how much work they [the players] might have been putting in when they’re working on their own. They came back in a hell of a lot fitter than I thought they’d be, which is good.

“Realistically… [we’ve] been treating it like a pre-season, but the motivation factor is a little bit different. We’re not just playing normal pre-season games, they know what’s on the line next week, so the intensity has been through the roof.”

The promise and goal of a Cup game to work towards has kept the squad united, the coach believes.

Through the uncertainty of the season cancellation and eventual postponement, it was the hope that would eventually dawn and keep fans and players alike strong in their belief in the team.

“With the lockdown last year [and] with not really knowing whether we were going to be playing football again, the motivation is in the side,” Grogan said.

“The boys knew [this year] that the Cup was always going to be on the horizon, whatever that looked like. That was always going to be a driving factor behind them in lockdown.”

Tigers FC and APIA Leichhardt face off at Viking Park on Wednesday, November 24. Kick-off is at 7:30pm (AEDT), and the winner will host the Western Sydney Wanderers.

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