The 'magic of the Cup' journey for 127 Football NSW sides begin this week and plenty of teams in the Illawarra will be looking to go as far as they can in the Australia Cup with hopes of taking on A-League opposition.
Last year saw the impossible, with Football South Coast side Wollongong United becoming the first association team to make it to the round of 32 of the competition - where Billy Tsovolos' men came up just short, losing 3-2 to Victorian NPL opposition Green Gully at Ian McLennan Park.
There are a total of 15 Illawarra sides from the Premier, District and Community Leagues taking part in rounds two and three of the Cup. NPL 1 side the Wolves will enter the competition in round four.
First up however is round two, and there are some mouth watering fixtures headlined by an all-IPL affair when Helensburgh take on Tarrawanna at Ian McLennan Park this Wednesday, 6pm kick-off.
It will be a must-see occasion for Illawarra football fans at Ian McLennan Park. Following the Helensburgh v Tarrawanna match, District League newcomers Gerringong will take on Bass Hill, 8pm kick-off.
Other IPL sides in the round two draw include Olympic who have already beaten Doyalson Wyee via forfeit, Bulli - taking on Liverpool Olympic and Coniston - who will play Linfield.
In District League terms, Gerringong will host Bass Hill, Shellharbour will travel to face West Pymble, Unanderra will take on Putney Rangers and Thirroul will play Quakers Hill.
It will also be an away day experience for Albion Park City Eagles whilst other amateur sides IFS Community Wolves and Coledale will host Eschol Park and Blacktown Workers respectively.
In round three, Cringila will host the winner of Peakhurst/Woongarrah, Wollongong United will take on the winner of West Pymble/Shellharbour, the Flame will travel to face either Fairfield Eagles or ACU FC and Albion Park White Eagles have a long road trip west to take on Bathurst - however, this fixture will be played earlier than other round three fixtures, held this Saturday.
In the lead up to the all-IPL fixture, Thistle coach Andrew Paine told the Mercury that his side were looking to continue their good form following their two-all draw with Wollongong United on Saturday and go on a solid Cup run.
"That's why you do it really [to go on a good Cup run]," he said.
"You don't invest too many of your assets early and if you manage to get through the first couple of rounds then you never know what can happen, hopefully you draw an NPL side or something like that and feature in a showpiece game for the community to come and watch.
"We've got no expectation and we just want to go there and play our own football. Of course the league is still the priority at the moment and we are looking to rotate our squad a bit and not pick up any injuries, but if you manage to get through the first couple of games then you can start going from there."
Tarrawanna coach Jason Wenig said it was exciting to be taking part in the Cup and that it provided his squad the opportunity to go on a dream run.
"Everyone here is chomping at the bit and it's exiting for all the teams down here [in the South Coast] to test yourself against whoever it is you're playing," he said.
"Freakishly enough out of a number of sides we drew Helensburgh from the same league. Even since I've played I don't think Helensburgh have changed and they will be full of running and energy. I think that's maybe what surprised United on the weekend. They will put themselves about and it's a massive challenge for us, but something that we're up for."
Wenig added that following their loss to Albion Park in the IPL on Saturday there had been a couple of sore bodies due to a combination of the heat and the heaviness of the pitch at Terry Reserve, meaning there would be a few fresh faces on Wednesday.
"A couple of the guys have pulled up with a few strains and stuff like that after Saturday," he said.
"Those players will be ready to go for the next IPL game but four or five new guys will come in for the Cup and get their opportunity. We're not taking it lightly and we want to win. Hopefully those new guys can come in and cement their spot."
WEDNESDAY March 7
Helensburgh v Tarrawanna - Ian McLennan Park, 6pm
Gerringong v Bass Hill, Ian McLennan Park, 8pm
Olympic v Doyalson Wyee, King Mickey Park, 7pm
SATURDAY March 11
East Gosford v Albion Park City - Pluim Park, 4pm
Coledale v Blacktown Workers - Elizabeth Park, 4:30pm
Quakers Hill v Thirroul - Blacktown Football Park, 5pm
IFS Community Wolves v Eschol Park - Lakelands Oval, 7pm
Bathhurst 75 v Albion Park White Eagles (round three) , 5pm
SUNDAY March 12
West Pymble v Shellharbour - Macquarie University, 5pm
Putney Rangers v Unanderra - Christie Park, 7pm
MONDAY March 13
Linfield v Coniston - Charles Bean Sports Field, 7pm
WEDNESDAY March 15
Bulli v Liverpool Olympic - Balls Paddock, 8pm
ROUND THREE (TO BE PLAYED WEEKEND OF March 24 and 25):
Cringila v Peakhurst/Woongarrah Wildcats
Wollongong United v West Pymble/Shellharbour
Fairfield Eagles/Australian Catholic University v South Coast Flame
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