"Every time I put the shirt on, everyone wants to beat us" - City primed to defend their crown
Paul Pezos' Adelaide City are on the brink of completing the South Australian treble in 2022. Tomorrow night it will be defending its championship against its foes from the previous year, the Adelaide Comets. City captain Matthew Halliday spoke exclusively to Front Page Football in the lead-up to the Grand Final about what it means to represent the club and what makes the current squad special.
Adelaide City's veteran trio of Joey Costa, Matthew Halliday, and Nicholas Bucco (left to right) celebrating the 2021 NPL SA Championship against the Adelaide Comets. (Adam Butler/80Kms)
Few understand Adelaide City like its current captain Matthew Halliday. The defender has spent 17 years at the club, which has been a wild ride. From wearing the Black and White as a junior, knocking the Wanderers out of the inaugural Australia Cup, and breaking a championship drought, Halliday has seen it all while wearing the armband.
"It’s been an honour," Halliday said, speaking about his time representing Adelaide City.
"I grew up watching them from a young age in the NSL. I started in the Under 12s, worked my way up the ranks, and then broke into the senior team, making my debut in 2010. In my first stint, I was there for quite a bit, and it’s always been good for me."
The current iteration of Adelaide City may be a juggernaut in South Australian football, but that has not always been the case in recent history. A combination of heartbreak and mass change in the club's hierarchy led Halliday to seek a fresh start in 2019.
"Leaving wasn’t easy. There was a shift in coaches, but also on the board; everything was getting changed, and I thought at the time, for me, it was the right time to leave and try something fresh," Halliday recalled.
"We had just come from losing three Grand Finals in a row; I thought it was a good chance to change scenery."
The defender moved to Adelaide Olympic, and the club experienced unprecedented success in 2019. They won the Federation Cup against Halliday's former side and reached the second week of the NPL SA finals for the first time in their history. Unfortunately, COVID-19 threw the squad in disarray during the 2020 season, and they finished three points off a finals spot.
Matthew Halliday was awarded the Man of the Match as Adelaide Olympic defeated his former side, Adelaide City, to clinch the 2019 SA Federation Cup. (Adam Butler/80Kms)
After two seasons at Olympic, Halliday knew his time at the club was over, a significant reason being the toll synthetic pitches were inflicting on his body.
"At the end of the second year at Olympic, I knew I was leaving; artificial pitches were not a thing for me. I didn’t realise how bad it is for the body, and playing and training on that for two years was not ideal," Halliday said.
With Adelaide City's home at Oakden being a grass pitch, a return was possible. The possibility quickly turned into a probability when Halliday found out who was taking over the reins of his old side.
"When I heard Pez (Paul Pezos) was potentially going to be the coach (of Adelaide City) it rang bells in my head!" Halliday remarked.
"A week after the season finished, I got a phone call from Pez, and he told me what he wanted to do and what his plans were. It was brainless! I knew I just had to accept, and that’s what got me back. A few others at the club wanted me back, too, and it was just an easy decision."
Until the final day of the 2021 season, Halliday's return to Adelaide City was the embodiment of late heartbreak. Another defeat to Olympic in the Federation Cup final, despite City's dominance, and losing the premiership in the final moments of the season were both hard pills to swallow. But eventually, the disappointment was swept away when Pezos' men broke a decade-long championship drought on Grand Final day against the Adelaide Comets.
"It was a massive relief to say the least! After ten years without winning the major trophy, it was a weight lifted off our shoulders. A lot of people, volunteers, have always been there, and it was just good to give something back to them," Halliday said.
Despite its fairytale ending last year, City has shown no signs of complacency in 2022, only losing two games in all competitions. Pezos has constructed a core of young talent. Their captain says their determination to succeed and the mentality instilled by their coach have been critical elements to its success.
"I think it’s just hard work and discipline. The boys don’t want to lose; we’ve lost one game, and it felt like we lost heaps of games! That’s one thing that’s good about Pez; it doesn’t matter what age you are; if you are good enough to play and you can do a job for him, he will play you," Halliday added.
"It starts from training Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday; we are all on top of one another. We’ve got a job to do, and if someone has an off day or slips up, they might lose their spot. It is all about accountability, and that’s another thing that’s helped us this year."
Halliday attributes part of Adelaide City's success to the mix of youth and experience ushered in by coach Paul Pezos. (Adam Butler/80Kms)
Come Grand Final night, Halliday is confident of success as long as his charges follow the processes outlined by their coach. Adelaide City got a timely reminder of the importance of following its system during its Semi-Final second leg matchup against Campbelltown City less than a fortnight ago.
Despite falling behind twice against Campbelltown, City did not panic and was rewarded for its measured approach with two late goals and a ticket to the Grand Final.
"We always have to trust the process, what we are doing, and what we are. Even when we went down twice, I knew there was plenty of time to score. Even those last few minutes, we just kept trying to play, we kept trying to find a way to break them down," Halliday said.
"I think that is important, coming from me and a couple of the other boys as well; we have to be patient, and something is going to happen. Like Pez tells us, if the outcome isn’t going our way, there is a reason for it."
Comets will be coming for City hungrier than ever. Barney Smith's side enters a fourth consecutive Grand Final, still searching for an illusive victory on the big night. Halliday and his teammates will remain wary despite their opponents not looking as menacing as in previous years.
"They’ve got quality players across the whole pitch, and when they click, they can do some real damage; they are also defending quite well. We have to be mindful of those players, but if we stick to our game, I can’t see why we can’t win another championship," Halliday added.
City enters this encounter no longer as the side vying to break droughts but as the champions primed to defend its rightful crown. Halliday knows that opponents will always view his team as a significant scalp regardless of City's position.
"I know every time I put the shirt on, everyone wants to beat us. Against anyone, they’re going to be playing at their best, but there’s no easy game against us," Halliday reflected.
Tomorrow night will not be easy, with both sides having plenty on the line. Comets hope to break its series of unfortunate defeats on the big stage. Meanwhile, City hopes to pile the misery on their opponents by claiming their final piece of silverware to conclude an almost perfect campaign.
For more Adelaide City content, click here to read Antonis' interview with midfielder Jai King, or click here to read his piece with Adelaide City Women Head Coach Angelo Paul.