‘It’s the biggest game of our lives’: Cairns defender eyes Sky Blue boilover

He’s the hulking defender who hails from Canada and is set to play a key role in Cairns FC’s quest to pull off a huge FFA Cup upset on Tuesday night.

Meet Joe Zupo, the 1.9 metre centre-back who has his sights on trying to topple FFA Cup holders Sydney FC in a massive David v Goliath Round of 16 battle at Barlow Park.

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There’s been a huge buzz in the north of Queensland ever since Cairns were drawn to play against Steve Corica’s Hyundai A-League powerhouse.

Cairns FC – formerly FNQ Heat – are the only Member Federation club to reach the Round of 32 in all five years of the FFA Cup so far.

But their win over Armadale in the previous round was the first time they’ve advanced to the last 16, and Zupo says they are eager to enjoy the experience against the imposing Sky Blues.

“It’s going to be a phenomenal experience for the players, staff and the whole region to play a club of that magnitude in the Cup,” Zupo told www.theffacup.com.au.

“As players, it’s the type of game we look forward to and the opportunity of a lifetime. For most of us it’s the biggest game we’ve played in and we’re excited as a group.

"We won't be overawed...we have to get on the ball and enjoy it."

“These are guys we watch on TV and as a footballer it’s what you look forward to, to test yourself against the best.

“As a Canadian, to come up against an A-League team is a great opportunity. We won’t be overawed.

“Once the whistle blows it’s just another game of football, that’s how we have to treat it.”

Tuesday night’s encounter is arguably the biggest match in the club’s history and Zupo – in his first year with Cairns - feels privileged to be a part of it.

His career so far has seen him be the youngest ever captain at Queens University in Canada – where he played for four years – before earning a professional contract with Kingston FC in the Canadian Soccer League.

After a couple of years with Kingston, he moved to Durham United in League1 Ontario – a semi-professional league – before deciding to relocate to Tasmania and linking with the Devonport Strikers in 2016.

Zupo was part of the Strikers side that went through to the FFA Cup Round of 16 that year, where they were beaten by Bentleigh Greens.

Family reasons meant he returned to Canada in 2017 before deciding he wanted to return to Australia, with Cairns able to lure him north.

“[Cairns FC coach] Danny Graystone knew me from Devonport and reached out to me as they were looking for a central defender,” Zupo explained.

“Next thing I knew I was on my way to Cairns.

“It’s been a good move and now here we are getting ready to play Sydney FC.

“It’s been great for the boys that have been with the club for a long time that we could finally make it through [to the Round of 16] and now hopefully we can make the most of it.

“What I’ve been trying to instill is to fight for 90 minutes and you never know what happens. We know we’re going in as underdogs but we have to make it as difficult as possible for them, put up a fight and not just be 11 pylons.

“I don’t want us to park the bus but really get on the ball and enjoy it.”

Having had a taste of professional football in Canada, Zupo would love a crack at playing in the Hyundai A-League, and is well aware a big performance against the likes of Alex Brosque and Milos Ninkovic could help his cause.

“If I can get myself into a good head space and have the game of my life, you never know what can happen,” the 25-year-old said.

“There’s been a lot of success stories in the FFA Cup. I just want to play at the highest level I can and I’m really focused on finishing off this year well with Cairns.”

Get tickets to the match between Cairns and Sydney FC here.

Joe Zupo
Joe Zupo in action for Cairns FC in the Queensland NPL. Pic courtesy of Cairns FC
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This article was originally published on the FFA Cup website.