Gunnedah United’s Andy Cygan and Michael Cooke.Englishmen Andy Cygan and Michael Cooke have more than just their origins in common.
Not only do both hail from Yorkshire county in northern England, the Gunnedah United pair is steadfast in their desire to give the Northern Inland Premier League (NIPL) a real shake in 2015.
“We’re quietly confident,” Cygan said.
The formidable striker who scored 18 goals from 16 matches last season for United, has been quick to gain the respect of his clubmates and coach in his short time with the club.
“He’s been our best signing in probably 15 years,” coach Richard Grant said.
The key club figure is also taking on more responsibility with United this season.
The assistance comes as a welcome reprieve for coach Grant.
“Andy has been great… chasing players, following them up… he puts a different spin on things,” he said.
“I think they’ve really enjoyed having a different melon and different voice to run around to.”
The captain’s position remains vacant but already Cygan was a strong contender, Grant added.
“I’ll have a yarn with him about it and if he wants it, it’s there,” he said.
Fellow countryman, Cooke, has been another good find for United.
Last year the newly engaged midfielder ran with cross-town rivals, the Hawks.
This season he’s sided with United, much to the delight of his new coach.
“I rated him last year against us so he’ll be a huge plus for us this season,” Grant said.
The new compressed 2015 premier league competition also looks to be a winner for United.
“We’ve got more home games than we’ve ever had,” he said.
United’s Blake Manks (right) keeps a close watch during club training earlier this week.
Not only has the NIPL board granted them one less away trip to Inverell, they needn’t worry about the biting cold trips to Guyra either after the club withdrew from the 2015 competition.
The new-look roster means from 18 games, United will make only two away trips to Armidale, three to Tamworth and one each to Narrabri and Moree.
“That’s very manageable,” he said, “and we’re thankful to the board for making things easier.”
The club’s first test will come at this weekend’s Acropolis Cup carnival in Armidale.
First established in the Northern Inland region in 1956, the tournament waned in recent years until it was re-established last season.
Tamworth has been the dominant team over the competition’s 59-year history, winning 13 championships. Meanwhile Gunnedah has won eight and Armidale, six.
This year’s tournament teams include Northern Tablelands (Inverell, Guyra, Glen Innes), Kamilaroi (Wee Waa, Narrabri, Moree), school and university sides from Armidale, as well as the pick of the crop from Tamworth and Armidale club sides.
With limited troops on the ground it’s a tough ask for United and Grant was realistic about their chances facing some heavily stacked Northern Inland teams.
“It’s a warm-up for us; the chance to try out new players in positions, different combinations,” he said.
“It’s better than a trial but it will be a hard slog for us on Sunday (day two of the carnival).”
This weekend’s Cup divisions include Open, Under 19 and women.
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