New Wollongong United coach Billy Tsovolos believes a mix of youth and experience will put his Illawarra Premier League side in good stead for next season.
Tsovolos took over the reins in late August after Oli Vrtkovski's departure to take on a coaching role at NSW National Premier League club Sydney United.
While a popular clubman himself, it left Tsovolos with big shoes to fill, with Vrtkovski's 30-year connection with United highlighted by claiming last year's IPL champions trophy.
But the new mentor has wasted no time piecing together the building blocks for United's 2022 Premier League roster. The starting point was re-signing veterans such as Danny Lazarevski, Sean Thomas and Ben Brooks - who Tsovolos played alongside in that 2020 grand final win over Woonona.
He is also keen to give opportunities to the club's young talent next year.
"Thomas Darjani is going to come up and train with us more, he was the leading goal-scorer in second division last year. Kyah Jovanovski is coming up to train with us and Jayden Mawmoski as well," Tsovolos said.
"It's something that our club has prided itself on over the last few years. They've been dominant in those younger grades, second grade and youth grade, the last few years and they're getting rewarded for that success. The club has pushed a whole heap of kids into the first team over the last two, three years, so it's good to see that continuing."
However, the coach believes it's equally important to keep plenty of experienced heads in the side.
"Everyone was pretty keen to stay once they heard the news (Tsovolos becoming coach)," he said.
"The last few years, these guys have shown what they're capable of and they're all some of the best players in the league in their positions. So it's great having them back on board."
The new mentoring role is likely to signal the end of Tsovolos's illustrious playing career. After an almost flawless 2020 campaign - which included claiming the George Naylor Medal for player of the year and Scott Chipperfield Medal as the grand final's player of the match - the midfielder didn't take to the field this season due to a knee injury.
While disappointed to miss out on game time, it gave Tsovolos, 28, an opportunity to learn more about coaching. He is now ready to take over the reins.
"When Oli got the job up in Sydney, the club asked me whether I'd be keen to do it. It was a no-brainer for me. Deni Raleski is staying around to help me and he's been one of the best assistant coaches in the league the last few years. We both know the team and the league inside out. And it's an easy decision when it's such a great club, we've got a good bunch of boys and I've got the help around me," Tsovolos said.
"I've been with Oli since the very start, I even helped him win the Youth Grade grand final before he got the first grade job, so we go a long way back. Oli did some great things at the club, and hopefully we can do the same now."
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