How patience helped Tarik Ercan and St George City thrive on the NPL stage
Patience is a virtue. A proverbial phrase with a core message - to help understand the nature of waiting for something good. For Tarik Ercan and his St George City side, patience has rewarded them with success not many expected.
Every year, the NPL NSW Men's competition provides unique entertainment with many surprises, dramas, and storylines that cap off remarkable seasons.
In 2022, a reshuffling of the competitions for this season meant the finals series was scrapped, and four teams gained promotion from FNSW League One to the NPL stage. Football NSW's decision promised to lead to more games, entertainment, and storylines.
One of the biggest surprises of 2023 so far is the rise of newly promoted St George City, who, in their first-ever season of NPL football, sit in the top half of the table after eight rounds. The side based at Penshurst Park has enjoyed a stellar start to the season, including wins over NPL NSW giants Sydney Olympic, Marconi Stallions, and Wollongong Wolves.
It has been a fantastic year and a half for the club, having won promotion last season. But the storyline hasn't always been successful for them. Success has been almost three years in the making, and it motivates St George City every time they step onto the pitch.
It was frustrating for the club as they pushed for promotion into the NPL. In 2020, there was no promotion, and in 2021 the season was cancelled due to COVID-19. Despite all the obstacles, St George City's patience was rewarded with automatic promotion and a Grand Final victory last year.
One man who has been a part of their journey is club captain Tarik Ercan, who recently spoke to Front Page Football about the club's rise up the NSW football pyramid. Ercan, of Turkish descent, has been at St George City since 2020. Despite being written off by pundits, camaraderie and team spirit helped the club be in the unique position they are in today.
"We were pretty much there to get promoted the year earlier (in 2021)," Ercan told FPF.
"However, last season was just incredible. A lot of people had written us off, our pre-season was also very sloppy, and we lost Jason Romero (to APIA Leichhardt). A lot of people thought without him in the squad, that's it; they're gone.
"But we proved to everyone that we're not a one-man team. The cohesion and togetherness of the group took us a long way, and that showed against the Central Coast Mariners in the Grand Final where before [that] game, the Mariners had never beaten us in their history.
"We were 1-0 down in the Grand Final, and it was an incredible feeling to come back from behind and defeat a team we had never beaten before, with two goals scored late. It was very memorable."
Fast forward to 2023, and the debutants are flying sky high, sitting in fifth position on the ladder, ahead of NPL NSW powerhouses Blacktown City and Sydney Olympic. It's a run few predicted, with their performances not down to pure luck. Their results include a 4-2 win over Western Sydney Wanderers Youth, a 3-2 away win over Marconi, a 1-0 win over Sydney Olympic, and a 5-3 victory over Wollongong Wolves.
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Under the guidance of manager Mirko Jurilj, the result against the Marconi Stallions at "The Palace" in round four was a key indicator to show the rest of the league that the newly promoted side isn't in the NPL to make up the numbers. A tactical masterclass saw St George grab all three points over the Stallions, who had cruised past Sydney FC Youth 5-0 and thrashed Wollongong 4-0 earlier in the season.
"The game against Marconi, especially in the first half, we had a very good game plan," Ercan said.
"Looking back, it was an incredible game holding on until the last second. Injury time was very nervous to watch for the coaches and our fans, but we pulled through in the end. Any win is a good win but against a massive team like Marconi; it was even sweeter."
However, despite the impressive results, the message remains clear within the playing group that consistency is a must, especially with a very tight ladder that allows little room for any slip-ups.
An area where St George needs to improve is the tendency to concede goals. While they have managed to score regularly, the team gives up far too many for their liking, letting in the most goals of any side in the top half.
"We just have to take each game one at a time; we can't get too [far] ahead of ourselves," Ercan said.
"Anyone can beat anyone, and whoever turns up on the day usually wins. Even when the form of powerhouse clubs in [the] competition isn't good, they are definitely going to come back. If you make an error at this level, you get punished, and teams will come back to bite you.
"So we're trying to close our defence better to stop leaking goals. Most of the goals we've let in have either been individual errors or from set pieces, so we need to improve on that and our consistency."
On Sunday, St George City travel away to Sydney FC's NPL side, ranked fourth on the table, in a match that both teams will want to win, given how close they are on the ladder, both sitting in the top half. Sydney FC is on a four-game winning streak, having won every game in March, including a 1-0 victory over Blacktown City.
Playing against the A-League Men academy teams is familiar for Ercan, given his battles with the Central Coast Mariners. These teams always present a challenge, given how spirited they can be.
"Not just Sydney FC, but all the youth A-League clubs are relatively the same," Ercan said.
"They're all technically good and train day in and day out, so they've got that advantage of being together for a long period.
"Being younger, they always run until the 90th minute and never give up. But also, sometimes, they can be mentally weak due to their age and experience. Hopefully, we can show them from the first minute that we've got the experience to give it to them on the pitch."
Round nine NPL NSW action sees St George City take on Sydney FC's youth side on Sunday at 3 pm AEDT at Valentine Sports Park, Glenwood.
Looking for more NPL NSW interviews? Click here to read our piece on Sutherland Sharks centre-back Mitchell Stamatellis!