Debuts to remember: the standout Round 1 displays from Hyundai A-League newcomers
No one enjoyed Western Sydney’s return to Wanderland quite like Daniel Wilmering.
Wilmering was there when it all began for the Wanderers in October, 2012 as a ball-boy when they played their first ever A-League game.
Seven years later the 18-year-old was pitch-side once again, this time as a substitute in the Wanderers first game at Bankwest Stadium against Central Coast on Saturday afternoon.
But, after an early hamstring injury to Tarek Elrich, Markus Babbel turned to his bench and ushered Wilmering — who he affectionately calls 'Wolverine' — onto his feet, and onto the pitch.
A founding member of the club, Wilmering’s 11-year-old memories of fetching the ball for his heroes in red and black and dreaming of one day becoming one of them materialised in a fairy-tale moment he won’t soon forget.
“Coming on today was a bit unexpected from the time I came on, but that’s what I’m looking for,” Wilmering said.
“I’m looking for any opportunity I can get to play minutes and I was happy to get as many minutes as I did, and hopefully I can get more.
“We as a whole club – fans and the club – have been waiting for this moment for a very long time.”
“It definitely does feel really good to be back.”
Babbel deployed Wilmering at wing-back as a like-for-like replacement for Tarek Elrich. It’s a position he’s not completely accustomed to but one the teenager is relishing, and as Elrich looks to be sidelined for the coming weeks Wilmering now has a chance to shine in his absence.
“It was good fun, left wing-back is a new position for me this year, every game and training session I’m going in that position and hopefully I can continue to get better,” Wilmering said.
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Memorable impacts on debut
Out to spoil Wilmering’s party was Mariners midfielder Milan Duric who dealt the hosts a stunning wake-up call in the first half on his Hyundai A-League debut.
Duric took no time to settle in as he put the Mariners ahead through a long-range shot which stumped Daniel Lopar in the Wanderers goal.
Latching onto a pass from Jordan Murray, Duric allowed the ball to run past his body before firing a shot from long range which dipped over Lopar’s outstretched glove to hit the back of the net.
It was the perfect start to life in the Hyungdai A-League for the Serbian midfielder but his joy was ultimately short-lived after a double from Wanderers captain Mitch Duke swung the tie back in the hosts favour.
Regardless of the result, however, we’ve seen through the first round of Hyundai A-League football the end product Duric can offer the Mariners from midfield this season.
Al Hassan Toure
The feel-good stories continued to unfold in Round 1 of the Hyundai A-League as Adelaide United unleashed a new attacking star.
Al Hassan Toure’s Hyundai A-League debut began much like his FFA Cup debut in pre-season – with a goal.
The 19-year-old Guinean has shone in Adelaide’s run to the FFA Cup final and his pre-season form has translated to the big stage without a hitch, as he started up front for Gertjan Verbeek’s side against Sydney FC on Friday night.
And, in the five-goal thriller, Toure seemed to have completed the unlikely Reds comeback when he scored his side’s second of the game after the Reds went down 2-0 in the first half.
A dinked ball from midfield to the tip of the box caught Sydney’s defence off-guard but Toure was alert to the chance. While the Sky Blues called for offside, Toure touched the ball down to his right in the box, then cut to his left and tucked the ball past Thomas Heward-Belle in the Sydney goal.
An offside call looked to halt celebrations but VAR intervened and Toure had his goal on debut, giving Adelaide fans plenty to look forward to as the young striker continues to develop.
As Toure looked to be the saviour of Adelaide’s night Ryan McGowan stepped up in the 87th minute to snatch the three points for Sydney FC on his Hyundai A-League debut.
The Caltex Socceroo brings more than a decade of European football experience to the Sky Blues this season and he showed his class in the first round, getting forward for a late corner and dispatching a bullet header into the top right corner.
McGowan’s towering header sealed the game as Sydney capitalised on their one-man advantage, sinking Adelaide hopes while starting their Championship defence off on the right foot.
Midfield maestro Dario Jertec oozed class from the start of his Hyundai A-League debut to the end.
The 34-year-old set the tempo for Western United linking their steely defence to their creative attack, finishing the game with 87% pass accuracy while contributing defensively with five clearances and two interceptions.
United coach Mark Rudan played seven players over the age of 30 against the Phoenix, and Jertec’s performance showed relying on experience could be an avenue to success for United this season.
Hyundai A-League comebacks
After a one-season absence the face that rivals fear returned to Hyundai A-League action on the weekend, this time for Western United.
And Besart Berisha picked up where he left off; scoring vital goals and forcing those who watched on to do so with begrudging respect.
Berisha’s first-half strike was United’s inaugural goal in the Hyundai A-League and it was scored in typical poacher style. A pinpoint cross from Josh Risdon found Berisha unmarked in the six-yard box for a clinical tap-in.
As Berisha wheeled away in celebration, fans from around the league could only watch on and think ‘I’ve seen this all before’, and wonder how many more times they’re going to see it this season.
Since signing for Perth Glory in March, Bruno Fornaroli has had a long time to plot his return to the Hyundai A-League.
Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet in Glory’s 1-1 draw against Brisbane Roar on Sunday, the Uruguayan showed plenty of promise as part of a fearsome attacking trio alongside Diego Castro and Chris Ikonomidis.
It was those three who linked up for the opening goal and Fornaroli started it all, plucking the ball from the sky and holding off defenders while he waited for Castro to breeze past. He passed the ball to the Spaniard, who fed Ikonomidis for Glory’s first goal of the season.
Defences around the league, take note: Fornaroli is back, and he’s ready to deal some damage this season.
Youth shines through rule change
On the morning of the first game of the season, Football Federation Australia announced each club was allowed two additional under-23 players on an extended substitute bench, providing young players the possibility to shine in the Hyundai A-League this season.
And, shine they did in Round 1.
Daniel Wilmering’s performance at wing-back for the Wanderers highlights a string of stellar shifts put in by teenagers around the Hyundai A-League over the weekend.
Another substitute in that same game was Sam Silvera for Alen Stajcic and the Mariners.
The 18-year old signed a senior contract on October 8 and four days later he was on to make his Hyundai A-League debut, and showed plenty of promise after being thrown on in the 53rd minute.
Similarly impressive was Connor Metcalfe for Melbourne City, who Erik Mombaerts deployed from the start in the Melbourne Derby.
Metcalfe, 19, held his own in the high-stakes affair, playing the full 90 minutes as his side drew 0-0 against city rivals Melbourne Victory on Saturday evening.
Throw in eye-catching displays from Sydney FC’s teenage left-back Joel King and 18-year-old Reds midfielder Louis D’Arrigo and there was plenty of youth on display around the Hyundai A-League in Round 1, signalling a promising outlook for our developing young players for the rest of the season.
Players making their first Hyundai A-League appearance for their club
Al Hassan Toure
Riley McGree (second debut, played 16 league games for Adelaide in 2016/17)
Brisbane Roar (10)
Jai Ingham (second debut, played one league game for Brisbane in 2013/14)
Central Coast Mariners (8)
Melbourne City (5)
Melbourne Victory (5)
Adama Traore (second debut, played 48 league games for Victory 2012/14)
Andrew Nabbout (second debut, played 40 league games for Victory 2012/15)
Perth Glory (4)
Sydney FC (4)
Wellington Phoenix (9)
Western Sydney Wanderers (8)
Western United (14)