Gippsland Cup attracts soccer aces

Huge coup: The inaugural Gippsland Cup will be held later this month, and see a Latrobe Valley Soccer League representative team play matches against Eastern Lions, Melbourne Victory and Mornington. Pictured are Melbourne Victory's Jackson Lino, LVSL's Connor O'Hanlon and Eastern Lions captain Ziggy Razuki. photographs liam durkin




LOCAL soccer fans will be spoilt for choice when the inaugural Gippsland Cup makes its way to the region later this month.

The tournament will see senior and Under-21 teams from National Premier League club Eastern Lions battle it out against a representative team from the Latrobe Valley Soccer League, Melbourne Victory (NPL 3) and Mornington Soccer Club (State 1).

Eastern Lions has instigated the cup in the hopes of forming a strong partnership with the Latrobe Valley in bringing high quality soccer to the region.

With the NPL just one tier below A League,

players in the LVSL team will have the opportunity to get a first-hand look at those who have made it to higher levels.

Starting on Australia Day, the three-day soccer extravaganza will see matches initially played at Eastern Lions home ground in Burwood, before moving to matches at Traralgon City Soccer Club and Latrobe City Sports and Entertainment Stadium, Morwell.

LVSL president Allan Roberts said the league was excited to offer its senior players a representative squad that has been sorely missed at league level.

“This tournament is a great opportunity to promote our game leading into the start of our season, and also on the back of the last two seasons that we have missed,” he said.

“We’re excited to partner with Eastern Lions Soccer Club and bring NPL football to Gippsland and allow the Gippsland soccer community to see football at a higher level.

“We’re seeing it (the Gippsland Cup) as a great opportunity to kick-start the league again,

kick-start the sport in Gippsland and start building a partnership moving forward.

“It is challenging times coming back from the last two seasons but the more promotion we can put around the sport to bring kids and senior players back the better.

“We hope that this is a start of a productive working relationship between our league and Eastern Lions.”

The Gippsland Cup will provide the LVSL team with a great opportunity to see how they stack up against NPL players – something Roberts said was enticing.

“It will be an interesting challenge for our boys, we haven’t done a lot of senior rep in the last couple of years so to give the players an opportunity in The Valley to play against quality opposition will be great,” he said.

“We’re hoping this is going to be the starting point again of senior rep football in Gippsland. Football Victoria has made a commitment that they are looking at bringing back senior rep teams for regional Victoria so this is just a perfect opportunity to bring some players together.”

Eastern Lions is sure to provide strong

competition for the local side, as it looks to make further waves as an NPL club.

The Lions gained promotion to the NPL’s top flight for the first time in its 58-year history at the end of 2019 after winning the Victoria 2 East title.

Lions skipper Ziggy Razuki said the club was looking forward to making the trip down.

“It is a really exciting initiative, any time we get to go on a bit of a trip and play football in different areas is really cool … it is going to be super exciting to be in Gippsland,” he said.

“It is always a massive bit of team bonding to go away together and to do it out here playing three games in five days against quality opposition against players we know nothing about is going to be awesome from a social, practical and tactical perspective.”

As Razuki explained, the benefits of the

tournament could go hand-in-hand in helping identify players that could attract some interest to come and try out for the Lions.

“I think it is one of the greatest things we are doing with things like this – sometimes you just don’t know that players are out there,” he said.

“Before I moved to Eastern Lions I was playing six leagues below just because I was enjoying it, having fun, and then got the opportunity to come through and now I’ve been here nine years … sometimes it is just being in the right place-right time.”

Taking on naming rights sponsorship for the Gippsland Cup will be AGL Loy Yang.

AGL Loy Yang general manager Christo van Niekerk said the company was proud to support the tournament, which will support the growth of soccer across Gippsland.

“Our region is a passionate sporting community and I have no doubt the AGL Loy Yang Gippsland Cup will set the stage for new incredible talent this year,” van Niekerk said.

“After a challenging two years in community sport across the state, we know how important these events are in bringing together our community and supporting the growth of sport in our region.

“Community sport is more than just a competition between players – it brings a sense of belonging – with volunteers, athletes, coaches, families and fans all part of the action.

“We know there will be plenty of people cheering on the sidelines and helping to enable new pathways for our next generation of football stars.

“I want to congratulate the Eastern Lions on launching this tournament in the heart of Gippsland, providing important social and economic benefits to our communities.”

January is well and truly the month for elite sport in Latrobe City, with the Gippsland Cup making up just one of the many codes on show. As well as soccer, the Traralgon International Junior ITF tennis tournament is currently taking place, following the recently concluded ATP Challenger and Women’s ITF.

The EnergyAustralia Classic Singles hosted by Newborough Bowling Club also welcomed

professional sportspeople to the area, while the Traralgon Golf Club Pro-Am is set to do the same thing.

Latrobe City Mayor Kellie O’Callaghan said there was so many positives in welcoming another sporting initiative such as the Gippsland Cup.

“We are really lucky, quite spoilt for choice in terms of wonderful sporting events here in Latrobe,” she said.

“It is great for our local kids because they get the opportunity to see their heroes and people they aspire to be in relation to sport, it’s something we always welcome, it’s great for the community to be able to get out and about and do things.

“As always, as with this event, if it wasn’t for volunteers in our local community we just wouldn’t be able to do it, so we are really grateful for all the support they give us.”

The Gippsland Cup will start Wednesday, January 26, with the first local match to be played the following night at Traralgon City Soccer Club.

Gippsland Cup Tournament Schedule

Round 1, Wednesday, January 26.

Venue: Gardiner Reserve, Burwood.

Fixture 1: Eastern Lions v Melbourne Victory (3pm)

Fixture 2: Mornington v Latrobe Valley Soccer League (5.30pm)

Round 2, Friday, January 28.

Venue: Traralgon City Soccer Club.

Fixture 1: LVSL v Melbourne Victory (6pm)

Fixture 2: Eastern Lions v Mornington (8pm)

Round 3, Saturday, January 29.

Venue: Latrobe City Sports and Entertainment Stadium.

Fixture 1: Eastern Lions v LVSL (1pm)

Fixture 2: Melbourne Victory v Mornington (4.30pm)