Croydon captain Luke Klimek eager to return Polonia to the national stage
Croydon FC will take on Campbelltown City for the final Australia Cup Round of 32 spot allocated to South Australia tomorrow night. Polonia captain Luke Klimek spoke to Front Page Football about what it would mean for his club to return to the national stage for the first time since 2015.
Croydon captain Luke Klimek celebrates after his side defeated Adelaide City to claim the Federation Cup in 2015, which earned qualification to the Australia Cup Round of 32. (Adam Butler/@8zerokms)
After three seasons on the road due to the government claiming their home Polonia Reserve because of the North-South Corridor project, 2023 saw Croydon regain its base. The club's new home at Regency Park is only a stone's throw away from the original Polonia Reserve. For captain Luke Klimek, it was a dream homecoming.
In round two of the NPL SA season, Croydon played their first genuine home game in three seasons. Klimek popped up from fullback to open the scoring for his side via a header en route to a 5-2 victory over the Sturt Lions. With a proud Polish heritage and having played over 350 games for Croydon, Klimek shared his emotions from that day with FPF.
"It is something you can’t quite describe," Klimek said.
"It was just such a special moment for me; I almost felt like crying when it happened! It was surreal how it happened; I am not usually a person that scores with his head, so it was almost like it was meant to be."
Despite their disappointing league form, Polonia has launched a successful Federation Cup campaign. While they continue to go through the motions in the NPL, Croydon suddenly finds themselves 90 minutes away from a return to the Australia Cup Round of 32 and a national audience.
Klimek shared that it's hard to pinpoint what has gone wrong for his side during the first half of the 2023 season. But he believes their cup run has provided everyone with a much-needed clean slate during a challenging campaign.
"In the cup, you are just focusing on that one game; you are not focusing on the league position or the pressure of getting points. You are just focusing on that singular game. Whether you win 1-0 or 5-0 or whatever it is, you advance to the next stage, and you don’t have the pressure of the league and the team’s placement on the table," Klimek said.
In Croydon's way stands Campbelltown City, another team previously featured on the national stage in the Australia Cup. With the Red Devils comfortably sitting in the top two in the league, Klimek and his side know they are up for a fight. Despite a 17-point gap between the two sides on the NPL standings, after nearly getting the best of the league-leading MetroStars on the weekend, Klimek and his Croydon side believe their best can match it with anyone in the league.
"We are expecting to come up against a very good team; Campbelltown has some amazing players, and it is a great team that has been together for a long time and achieved a lot of success. We need to be at our best on the day, and if we are, we have a chance because we can definitely beat them," Klimek said.
Croydon's first game at their new home may have been successful. But the official opening occurred just over a month later against Campbelltown. That day, Polonia had their party spoiled by the Red Devils. But Klimek insists it is not something his side is thinking about heading into their first encounter against Campbelltown since the round six fixture.
"I think there is enough motivation for this game because it means advancing in the Australia Cup, and that alone is enough motivation for anyone at our club. It is such a privilege to make it to that stage of the Australia Cup; that (losing on the official opening of the new ground) won’t be something that needs to motivate us, I don’t think," he added.
READ MORE ON FPF
It might have been eight years ago, but Luke Klimek was part of the Croydon side that reached the Australia Cup Round of 32 in 2015 after beating Adelaide City in that year's Federation Cup Final. Klimek played in his side's loss to Queensland Lions and is still the only player to score for Polonia at that stage of the Australia Cup.
Having already experienced the infectious excitement a cup run provides for his club, Klimek is keen to bring that feeling back to Croydon. Along with the experience, as someone with a proud Polish heritage, Klimek wants to fly the flag for his country on the national stage alongside the Italian, Greek, and Croatian clubs that usually dominate the local representation in the Australia Cup.
"We’ve been lucky enough to play in the Australia Cup Round of 32 once before in 2015, and that was an amazing experience for us as a club. To be able to get there again would be an amazing experience for everyone involved in the club again, from the volunteers to the juniors," Klimek said.
"You don’t have to be on the field to experience that buzz. It’s just such an amazing competition for every club fortunate enough to reach that stage. When you are one of the very few semi-professional teams with a Polish background playing in Australia, it is very important. It would be good to see a mix of different nations being represented in the Australia Cup Round of 32."
Along with the joy of advancing Polonia into the latter stages of the national cup competition, Klimek remembers the disappointment of falling short at the final hurdle in 2018's Federation Cup Final against the Adelaide Comets. It has been in his mind for the last few years, but the fullback insists his attention is squarely on tomorrow night's opposition.
"It is devastating to lose any final, but especially with such a big prize at the end, like being part of the Australia Cup. It was obviously hard to take for us in 2018, and it is definitely something that you think about over the years. But right now, we are just focusing on Campbelltown and not thinking back to that game," Klimek said.
The winner of this match joins Adelaide United and the MetroStars in the Australia Cup Round of 32 and earns the right to face the latter for the Federation Cup title, one of three trophies available for South Australia's NPL clubs each season. Travis Dodd and Michael Matricciani are seeking their first silverware as coaches of Croydon and Campbelltown, respectively. They will be ensuring their sides give it their all in that quest.
Click here to read more of FPF's Australia Cup coverage!