The future of the Illawarra's football stocks is in safe hands as the Wollongong Wolves starting laying the foundations for their return to the national stage.
Football Australia on Monday revealed that the Wolves would be among the eight initial clubs to take part in the first National Second Tier competition. They will be joined by fellow NPL NSW clubs Sydney Olympic, Marconi, APIA Leichhardt and Sydney United 58, along with Victorian outfits, Preston Lions, South Melbourne and Avondale.
FA has already committed to unveiling two or four more teams ahead of the inaugural NST kicking off in March/April 2025.
It's a big win for the Wolves and football in the Illawarra.
Wollongong has always been a great production line for promising talent to get to the now-defunct National Soccer League and the A-League, but the region's youth are set to receive a direct pathway from junior level through to the top-flight via the Wolves program.
Jacob Timpano is one person who understands the importance of needing the right support in your bid to become a professional player. The central defender played for the Wolves in the National Soccer League before going on to win an A-League championship with Sydney FC.
In his post-playing days, Timpano returned to the Wolves to take the reins as head coach. He is now the club's technical director.
"As a kid growing up in the region, I always had the Wolves playing on a national stage to strive for - and I was able to achieve that goal," Timpano told the Mercury.
"Now there's an opportunity for the kids of our region to do the same. And I think it's the perfect opportunity - and timing - for the stakeholders in the game locally to come together for the betterment of youth development because there's going to be that pathway available.
"We've done our time in the NPL. We've been through lows and some highs, but the club is in a good position now. (Wolves chairman) Tory Lavalle has backed the club for the last little bit of time, and there's some good people involved to get it the point it is now.
"But moving forward, going to that next level, it's going to take a collective effort and the local community to get behind and support the team - as any club on a national stage needs, and deserves."
Luke Wilkshire is another Wollongong product who enjoyed the rise to playing at the highest level in Australia.
The former Socceroo spent a decade-and-a-half playing for clubs around the world before returning to Australia to play for Sydney FC in 2016. Wilkshire - who then came back to Wollongong to become the Wolves head coach - said the NST promotion was a great boost for Illawarra football.
"You look at the numbers that we have in our region who have been craving that opportunity to go further in the game, and that's another step forward," Wilkshire said.
"It's a another step for them to play at A-League level or try get them overseas to fulfil their potential and their dreams."
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