Toughest time: Battle to keep Western Pride in state league
"THAT'S all I'm worried about, surviving this year and then we'll go well from there''.
With those words of encouragement, Western Pride patron Gary Wilkins is anxious to see the Ipswich men's state league team secure a few experienced players to save the progressive club from relegation.
Preparing for their latest game against Brisbane Roar Youth on Sunday night, Pride are anchored at the bottom of the National Premier Leagues Queensland ladder with just two wins from 14 games this season.
However, Wilkins has backed Pride general manager Pat Boyle and head coach Terry Kirkham for their efforts trying to attract new players during the toughest period in the club's NPL history.
"We haven't given up yet,'' the former international player said.
"There's a good group of people there, fantastic volunteers. We don't deserve what's happened to us this year.''
Like many people loyal to Pride, Wilkins was disappointed to see a number of 2017 Pride's grand final-winning players renege on their deals after signing to stay on.
"It didn't help what happened at the start of the year,'' said Wilkins, who has been club patron since Pride's debut season in 2013.
"Pat had all those players signed up . . . and when he was overseas, other clubs approached them and convinced them to leave unfortunately.
"I'm bitterly disappointed with the boys that were there that signed.''
Having a long administrative association with Brisbane Roar, Wilkins has also been searching for more senior players to help Pride's promising youth coming through.
On Wilkins' wish list have been some Roar A-League players who are currently holidaying for 5-6 weeks after completing their latest national league season.
But so far, Wilkins was yet to receive any concrete interest from a player or players he said would provide valuable experience in the state league while maintaining fitness during their A-League off-season.
"I haven't heard anything back from them,'' Wilkins said.
Coach Kirkham continues to chase fresh talent, having just signed former Rochedale midfielder Killian Flavin, who made his Pride debut last Saturday night.
"He didn't go too bad so hopefully something else will come up,'' Wilkins said.
"We can just hope and keep pressing and keep asking the questions to players.''
Wilkins represented Australia on four occasions in 1967 on his way to being chosen in Australian football's Hall of Fame.
He led the Queensland team in 34 of his 35 matches between 1967 and 1974.
After a stint with Lions, Wilkins continued his post-playing career work with the Roar where the club's major award is named after him each season.
Fiercely loyal to Ipswich, the former international was eager to assist Pride when the region's first state league franchise was created.
Although Pride won a historic NPL grand final two seasons ago, Wilkins always maintained the team required three seasoned players to guide the youth.
"We need another centre half, a midfielder and a striker . . . and the other boys around them can combine in with them,'' Wilkins said.
Wilkins praised current Pride striker Michael Morrow for his efforts during a testing time.
"Young Michael up front is working hard doing everything but he can't do it by himself,'' Wilkins said.
"Every week is the same. We come off losing 4-1 or something and we could be leading two or three nil at halftime ourselves.''
Brisbane Roar suffered the same fate in this year's A-League.
However, Wilkins said Western Pride's crop of young players didn't deserve criticism for their work rate.
"The lads are just not up to it (at the moment),'' Wilkins said.
"Give them another year or two, yes maybe.
"And it's not that they are not trying. They busting their butts but they just haven't got that level.
"The kids are not bad players but you just need that experience around them.
"When you watch the experienced players, when they get the opportunity that our boys are getting, they are just that little bit cooler. They don't rush the shot or whatever. They just make sure they put it away.''
Sunday's NPL game is at Logan.
NPL: Sunday (5pm) - Western Pride v Brisbane Roar Youth at Logan Metro Sports Complex.
NPL women: Sunday (3pm) - Western Pride v Souths at the Briggs Road Sporting Complex.