The player-coach formula fuelling Edge Hill's FFA Cup push

Far North Queensland clubs have proudly played their part in the FFA Cup Final Rounds over the years. 

As one of those who has been at the core of the action, Edge Hill United player-coach Crios O'Hare is determined to help his club create a historic new chapter as the magic of the cup ventures north again this week. 

Alongside his strike partner and assistant coach Josh Taylor, O'Hare is looking to both plan and deliver during the community club's assault on NPL Queensland opponents Gold Coast Knights. 

Ahead of Wednesday's Round of 32 clash, O'Hare recalled the highs and lows of his FFA Cup experiences so far - headlined by taking on A-League heavyweights Sydney FC back in 2018 with Cairns FC. 

How to watch the FFA Cup in 2021

As the only community club remaining in the 2021 FFA Cup, Edge Hill United's run sure has been a remarkable one.

Back in June, a travelling party of 27 players, coaches, sponsors and life members conducted a fly in, fly out mission from Cairns to Mackay, returning as the first, and what would turn out to be the only, amateur club to qualify for this year's Final Rounds. 

"It was a really tough, tough trip, obviously coming up against an NPL team. I think most people didn't really give us a chance," recalled O'Hare. 

"We believed that we were good enough to go down there and get a result, and travelling down to Mackay on the same day and it was very rushed - I think we had maybe an hour-and-a-half after we landed you know kick-off.

So it was difficult circumstances but it said a lot about how we went there and won the game comfortably enough. To come away with a win and to go into the Round of 32 was a huge achievement."

The 'Cupset' over NPL side Magpies Crusaders was the culmination of a dominant few seasons in the FNQ Premier League, where the Tigers cleaned up virtually every available trophy during a 30-game winning streak from September 2019 to mid-2021. 

As one of the largest clubs in North Cairns, with a sizeable membership throughout its youth and female divisions, O'Hare feels as though his side are representing more than just their club in this year's Cup. 

"Obviously we're representing Edge Hill, but we're also representing the region and that's what makes this competition really special," he said. "Because you hope the whole region gets behind us, supports us - and you never know what will happen." 

Edge Hill's next fixture will take place at Barlow Park - a premier facility with pitch quality and size that O'Hare admits may well advantage the Knights on Wednesday night. 

Over the years with Cairns FC, O'Hare and a handful of his teammates were twice defeated by NSW's Sydney United 58, fell to Victoria's Oakleigh Cannons despite a positive performance, and once reached the final 16 after overcoming Western Australia's Armadale 4-0 in 2018. 

Next followed a 2-1 defeat to eventual Cup winners Sydney FC, in a match that O'Hare knows all too well could have turned out differently. 

"Playing Sydney at Barlow Park, no one gave us chance and probably rightly so," he recounts. 

"We put in a great performance and were leading 1-0 over 60 minutes into the game, before they were given what we thought was a dodgy penalty.

"They let them back in, we had the chance to get back into the game when I missed a penalty, but that sort of thing happens from time to time and you move on.

WATCH: Cairns FC v Sydney FC (2018) - Match Highlights

"Certainly we've had some great experiences playing in the competition. People talk about the Magic of the Cup all the time; it's just a fantastic competition that we're very excited for the opportunity to represent Edge Hill and Cairns.

"Certainly for our younger players, it's going to be something for them to remember." 

For the likes of O'Hare, the challenge against Gold Coast will be channelling their considerable experience to inspire the team's younger players. 

"A lot of us have played NPL level, have experience in big games, and this will be our fifth or sixth time in the last 32," he explained.  

"So we certainly have a bit of experience in this stage and we're going to need to draw on that experience for our younger guys. It's a good mix, and I think we need all of our experience to come through on Wednesday."

While he admits being a player-coach isn't always easy, O'Hare acknowledges how much the club have managed to conjure a winning formula in the local scene and beyond. 

"You're obviously going to miss some things when you're playing and coaching, but I think me and my assistant coach Josh Taylor, who is my strike partner as well, do a good job in helping each other out," he said. 

"It's certainly been great for me from a coaching point of view, and also our technical director Michael Falchetti is great on the sidelines as well and looks after things. 

"So it does come with a lot of challenges being a player-coach, but I really enjoyed it, and it's proud moment to make it this far in the competition."

While many have documented the divide between semi-pro and professional sides going head-to-head over the years, the divide between the local, amateur game and state-wide semi professional NPL is one that will come to the fore in this week's clash. 

READ MORE: Edge Hill United v Gold Coast Knights - Match Preview

And considering all of the challenges faced by O'Hare and his squad, snatching a result against the Knights would rank up there with the competition's most storied 'Cupsets'.

"We're a team that trains twice a week, some nights only with seven or eight players, so it's not easy trying to prepare for a big game like this," the player-coach explained."

"The fact that we've made it this far is a great achievement and something we're very proud of, but obviously if we go any further, that achievement is even bigger.

"And that's certainly what we're going to try and do on Wednesday night. We're not there just to make up the numbers. We're very determined, motivated and we're going to do what we can to get through to the next stage.

"I think whatever way it goes, we'll still be very proud of the achievement, and it's something to build on for next year and beyond."