Sport

Melbourne City fever sweeps Greater Shepparton

By Tyler Maher

Melbourne City fever has swept Greater Shepparton ahead of the club’s A-League pre-season friendly against Western Sydney Wanderers tonight at McEwen Reserve.

The Goulburn Valley’s premier round-ball facility will certainly turn into a ‘‘Theatre of Dreams’’ tonight as young fans get the chance to brush shoulders with their heroes right here on their doorstep.

There is a local connection to City’s squad as well with former Goulburn Valley Sun Gianluca Iannucci among the A-League giant’s outfit during the pre-season, including on a recent trip to India.

The Cobram product has enjoyed receiving a taste of what being among the senior squad is like and hoped plenty of young fans in Shepparton had the opportunity to get to McEwen Reserve tonight.

‘‘(The pre-season has been) good (but) hard,’’ Iannucci said.

‘‘I really needed to work on this pre-season getting fitter and I’ve been trying to do that.

‘‘India was really tough, but it was a really good experience with the first team and this season has been really good with the senior NPL side and previously just getting into the NYL side (was good) and I’m looking forward to another good NYL season hopefully.

‘‘When I was coming up through Shepparton and that area we didn’t get the opportunity to have clubs come down and play, so it’s really, really good for the area I think.

‘‘I reckon it will be really big, it’s the (last) game before the season starts and it would be really, really good to finish the pre-season on a high heading into the season to have a successful season, because I believe from what I’m hearing around the club and from the group — mainly the senior, senior group — they want to be successful this year.

‘‘I think it’s really important, just to have the opportunity to see the best players in Australia from two of the biggest clubs in the A-League, it’s really, really important.

‘‘Just to see players that one day they could aspire to be like is, I believe, really important and really good for the area and football in that area.’’

City players were in the Maude St Mall yesterday in order to meet a few of their fans and invite them along to tonight’s proceedings.

Defensive midfielder Rostyn Griffiths knows exactly how important trips to regional centres are for big clubs after his own experience growing up in Western Australia.

‘‘A reason why I support the Fremantle Dockers is they often came to the area I was growing up in,’’ Griffiths said.

‘‘Hopefully that’s the same connection we can make out here with the local people of Shepparton and just get that extra bit of base and extra bit of following, because I think down the line when football hopefully takes over we’ll spread our wings.

‘‘You often come out and you think ‘is anyone going to be interested’ or ‘what is the turn out going to be like’ and then even if you see a few kids who are happy to see you and happy to play a bit of football and that it all makes it worthwhile.’’

Griffiths — who joined City this year and has previously captained Perth Glory — feels the A-League must continue to reach out as far as it can with fixtures like tonight’s in order to engage as many fans as possible.

‘‘I think regional games in the A-League are always important,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s difficult for people to get from Shepparton to Melbourne all the time, but it’s just (about) trying to create that interest, I think the A-League still has to do things like this if they want to progress and you’ve got to try and reach as far as you can possibly reach in terms of getting that A-League interest.

‘‘You never know you might get a bit of talent who comes up from Shepparton and comes to the city. I know in WA we had Josh Risdon who came from a town very similar to this and now he’s playing for the Socceroos, so I guess that’s the dream for kids out here as well.’’

Osama Malik was also in town and the midfielder believes City is raring to go ahead of the season-proper beginning next weekend against rival Melbourne Victory.

‘‘Obviously it’s a long pre-season, but this is the point of the season where you’re like ‘okay, it’s time for business’ and I think the boys are shaping up well,’’ Malik said.

‘‘We’re all fit and we’re ready to go and hopefully we can do well (tonight) and beat Victory next week.’’

Malik also highlighted the importance of his club having a presence in cities like Shepparton, with the organisation locked in to return for pre-season fixtures for at least the next two years.

‘‘Shepparton’s not that far from Melbourne and it’s a place that I know loves football,’’ he said.

‘‘You look at the facilities that they have here and it’s amazing, so it’s a place where we enjoy coming and hopefully we find some future Melbourne City players from here.

‘‘It’s our second year now and we’re looking to make it a bit of a tradition up here, so I think it’s nice, I think the crowd likes it.

‘‘We had a big crowd last year and we had a good result, so hopefully it’s the same (tonight).’’

City claimed a 1-0 win against the Wanderers last year in Shepparton and tonight’s match will kick-off at 7.30pm.