Domenic Costanzo, the poster boy for the importance of a National Second Division
Despite radio silence regarding the specifics, a National Second Division is set to be introduced in 2023. There are a lot of questions about the concept. But it cannot come soon enough for players and coaches that have been banging on the door for opportunities with nothing eventuating. A black and white example of that is Marconi's Domenic Costanzo, who spoke to Front Page Football about his young but eventful journey and his aspirations for the future.
Domenic Costanzo celebrating a goal with his Marconi teammates. (NPL NSW)
Costanzo had an initial stint with Adelaide United as a teenager in the club's NPL Reserves squad. But he was released and eventually signed for NPL SA club Croydon FC, playing under father Angelo.
Many young players enter a club's NPL set-up but do not make the first team. Costanzo, though, is a hard-working player with high aspirations and would not let rejection affect his career. It's an attitude that seems to have become a bit of a theme a few years into his career.
Despite only being 18 at the time, Costanzo shone in his first go at a senior league, the NPL SA, playing with a poise years above his age.
He attributed his rise to stardom to his father's treatment of him as a player. Costanzo told Front Page Football, "I didn’t get away with anything; he treated everyone the same and if anything, he was harder on me. He made it clear, ‘if you don’t play well, if you don’t score, I’m going to drop you, simple as that.’ There were players ready to come in."
The tough love and hard work seemed to have paid off, with the youngster netting 14 goals, second in the whole competition and only behind Adelaide Comets captain and former A-League Men player Allan Welsh.
Costanzo's form was so irresistible that his former club, Adelaide United, came knocking again, this time with a scholarship contract. The deal guaranteed Costanzo a spot on the club's senior list and much fanfare. Making it into the club's senior squad meant he followed in his father's footsteps. The pair became the first father-son combination in Adelaide United's young history.
Costanzo (#17) before his debut for Croydon FC in 2018. (Croydon FC)
Unfortunately for Costanzo, his stint on Adelaide United's senior list coincided with the club's great depth in the wide attacking positions where he plays his best football. Therefore, the youngster did not receive the opportunities he worked hard to achieve.
Finding himself behind players such as Craig Goodwin, Ben Halloran, Yaya Dukuly, and the Toure brothers was frustrating, with Costanzo's work seemingly going unrewarded.
"I think at the start it was more a case of me telling myself I’ve got to be patient; I’ve got to be patient, it’s going to come. It’s going to come, and eventually, I had to drop down and play in the youth team, something I didn’t have an issue with. It’s the case now; a lot of the boys play A-League and then drop down. Look at Nestor Irankunda, he played at the All-Star game, and that same week he was playing in the youth team; it’s just the way it works," Costanzo told Front Page Football.
"I had no issue with it, but it got to a certain point where I wasn’t even playing for the youth team; I found myself sitting on the bench for the youth team. In a league where I knew I had it in me because I did it the year before, that was the difficult thing to accept."
Costanzo sought an early release from his contract at the Reds and trialled with the Newcastle Jets. But that period at Newcastle coincided with Craig Deans stepping down as the coach and a freeze on player recruitment until they hired a permanent coach. After a brief return to Croydon, trials in Italy also proved fruitless. But on his way back to Australia, COVID-19 restrictions opened a new door for Costanzo.
After training with a few NSW-based clubs, a door opened up to join a club where the name Costanzo is familiar. Domenic's father, Angelo, played for the Marconi Stallions in New South Wales when his son was born. 2022 saw the son follow the father's footsteps again, with a fellow NPL NSW club missing out on the opportunity to sign the youngster.
As Costanzo could not return to Adelaide without undergoing hotel quarantine, he had to train with multiple clubs to remain fit in New South Wales. But he decided to stay in the Harbour City and get a fresh start at football outside his comfort zone.
"I trained for a week with Sydney United because we had a few connections, but that was mainly to keep fit. I don’t think Sydney United wanted me at the end of the day! When I decided I would stay in Sydney, they weren’t too keen on me! Marconi must have found out that I was in Sydney, they told me to come down, and that was that," Costanzo said.
Costanzo celebrates after assisting teammate Marko Jesic. (NPL NSW)
After being given the first few games to adjust to a new league by coming off the bench, Costanzo has made himself a regular at Marconi, which is on the hunt for silverware. At 20 years old, in a league that is a physical step up from what he's used to, Costanzo has recorded six goals and multiple assists. He has been a big reason for Marconi's Premiership charge, often a feature in the competition's Team of the Week.
Costanzo has shown he is capable of impressing whenever he receives an opportunity. Unfortunately, he and many other players are starved for top-level chances on the national stage, with the potential National Second Division being viewed as a light at the end of the tunnel.
"It wouldn’t be just me; there are other players that have been on the same boat, that have been just there, but [it] just comes down to timing sometimes. Hopefully, Marconi [will] end up in it (National Second Division). And hopefully, they have enough faith in me to stay in the team in that division. Once it is all in place, it is going to be a great opportunity," Costanzo remarked.
As a player giving his all to make it as a professional footballer, Costanzo has had to remain resilient.
"When you get your chance, you’ve just got to take it," he said.
Unfortunately, that "chance" is just not afforded to enough footballers in Australia. Costanzo's hometown of Adelaide has just one professional football club, Adelaide United. Australian football must ask itself how many potential talents are going under the radar?
The introduction of the National Second Division cannot come soon enough. It should be designed for not only hard-working talent deprived of opportunities, like Domenic Costanzo, but for the next generation of aspiring footballers.
Should a National Second Division be introduced successfully, Australian football will feel the effects for generations. The proof is the quality of players Australia will produce, export, and represent the country in Green and Gold.
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