"The community really get behind us" - Devonport City Strikers ready for Australia Cup challenge
Valley Road in Devonport will again be the centre of attention in Tasmania as Devonport City Strikers prepare for a historic Australia Cup tie against A-League Men opposition.
Devonport City Strikers are one of Tasmania's most successful football teams, winning many league and cup trophies throughout their history.
The NPL Tasmania side will make their third Australia Cup appearance when they face A-League Men side Wellington Phoenix on Wednesday night.
FPF caught up with club captain Kieran Mulraney to talk about his time playing for Devonport City Strikers, football in Tasmania, and the upcoming cup tie.
The 31-year-old defender has been at the club since U18s, and in 2019 he was appointed club captain of the senior team.
For Mulraney, the leadership role is something he thrives in, as he enjoys helping to improve his teammates.
"Helping our players out is one of the main things I do," Mulraney told Front Page Football.
"I'm not one that will stand in front of the group and scream at players. I'm one of those that go around individually and talk to players in-depth in a quiet manner.
"Offering that personal and helpful advice is something I enjoy about being captain, especially as we have a lot of young lads in the team."
Mulraney has seen first-hand how football in Tasmania is shaping up and how the standard is changing.
"The standard has improved within the last three to four years," Mulraney said.
"There has been a lot of progress in the state, in particular through the field of professional coaching.
"Before, only South Hobart FC had a professional coaching set-up, and as a club, we pushed for that as well.
"Now other clubs are following this trend within both junior and senior set-ups, and with this, it is getting more competitive across the pitch."
In the 2022 NPL Tasmania season, Devonport has only lost one game, scoring over 50 goals and conceding just 10.
Despite similar statistics in previous years, Mulraney had high praise for how the team is faring this season.
"In regards to our current style and results, it's probably the best season I've been involved in," he said.
"In the 2016 season, we only lost one game, but in regards to the football being played, we're playing a much better style than before.
"We were very defensive back then and waiting for the counter. But this season, we're more possession-based and creating a lot of chances while at the same time not allowing other teams to score.
"We've got a player from Valencia in Spain, we've got Keegan Smith from New Zealand, and overall it's a really good mix of youth and experience, and they're contributing well to this playing style which is fantastic."
Mulraney was a part of Devonport's famous Australia Cup runs in 2016 and 2018, as the club progressed to the Round of 16 on both occasions.
In 2016, Devonport City Strikers defeated Lambton Jaffas (Northern NSW) 1-0 at Valley Road. The match was famously remembered for the late Mike Cockerill's live cross on television when it fell below 0 degrees with heavy rainfall and gusty winds.
The victory against Lambton was six years ago, yet Mulraney still vividly remembers that night.
"It was the first national game we played as a club," Mulraney said.
"I assume a lot of people who aren't from Tasmania or follow Tasmanian football know about that night because of the waterlogged pitch and the freezing conditions.
"It was our first time in the cup, and that win was very special. From what I can remember, it was a very even game. I got hit in the face from a powerful shot whilst defending a certain goal on the line. I remember our keeper making some incredible saves.
"The atmosphere, [where] we had over 2000 people, and the feeling to have that support behind our backs was very special."
Devonport is Tasmania's third biggest city, with around 25,000 inhabitants. It's a place Mulraney believes has an influential community aspect. When games like these come along, it brings that tight-knit community closer.
"The community gets behind us, in my opinion," Mulraney said.
"Whenever I get interviewed by other media outlets and get asked about what Devonport is like, the first word that comes to mind is community.
"We're a small city; almost everyone here knows each other. Our club is full of volunteers, and ever since that night against Lambton in 2016, everyone in Devonport would know about that famous night if you asked them.
"That victory against Lambton was a real stepping stone for the community to embrace the club and who we are.
"You can feel the support of the whole city being right behind your back, and as I said, the community really get behind us."
The draw for the 2022 Australia Cup was live at the clubhouse on Valley Road with jubilant scenes as Devonport drew A-League Men opposition for the first time in the club's history.
"It was [exciting] when we drew Wellington Phoenix in the final draw," Mulraney said.
"Our reaction was in two stages; we were happy to finally play at home as we didn't in our last appearance. Then, once we drew Wellington Phoenix, there was an even bigger celebration.
"We have never played against A-League opposition on the national stage. No other Tasmanian team has done that either. It will be a first for the club and the state of Tasmania.
"Keegan Smith, who used to play for Wellington, was gearing up the lads weeks before saying, 'we're going to get Wellington', and it did happen, and we got around him because it will mean a lot for him."
"We're aware of their playing style and formation," Mulraney added.
"I know they signed players in the off-season such as [Bozhidar Kraev] and Kosta Barbarouses.
"They're very early in their pre-season, and it's unsure if they will send a full-strength squad to Tasmania.
"They might think they're playing a small side from Tasmania, but we're aware that they've also lost to NPL sides in the cup.
"It gives us a positive mindset heading into the game that we think they're beatable."
There have been several talks of A-League expansion in Tasmania for numerous years.
At the moment, there is no rectangular stadium in the state, yet Mulraney says the demand in Tasmania is there.
"Tasmania is ready for a professional football team," Mulraney said.
"There's been a lot of talk of a professional men's team in any sport, whether in the AFL or A-League; Tasmania is pushing for a team to represent the state.
"As a state, I think we need an A-Leagues side, and there is no doubt the whole of Tasmania would embrace it.
"We need a rectangular stadium which we don't have, and at the end of the day, everything comes down to money.
"I know it's a complicated process, but the market is there for it to happen in the next five years.
"The adult demographic in Tasmania is still AFL-based.
"But in junior and youth age brackets, football is everywhere. Football has the highest participation rate [of] any other sport in the state.
"You see more kids playing football in local parks, but the hardest part is trying to keep them interested once they hit 18, 20 years of age.
"It's growing, and you can see it first hand at Devonport. When I started my time there, we only had an U18s side in the youth category, but now we have a lot of teams, such as U14s.
"At the end of the day, it is important for these kids who share a passion for football to continue their passion in their adult years, and it's something that needs to be looked at."
On Wednesday night, Mulraney and his Devonport City Strikers host Wellington Phoenix in the Australia Cup at Valley Road, Devonport, with kick-off at 7:30pm AEST.
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