My goals for 2018 – Zenon Caravella

Last year, after we won our first tournament in Sydney, I tried to talk but it sounded like I had laryngitis. I had been yelling at my players you see, not in an aggressive way – because people know my coaching style isn’t that way inclined – but I had been yelling with pure joy. It took us four visits, 2 years of development and many, many games against really tough competition – after all, Sydney boasts some of the best juniors in Australia – but we had finally won a trophy.

I remember turning to my wife and saying, “this feels as good as winning any big A-League game”.

Winning the Futboltec Invitational

Our then U12’s (now U13’s) were, understandably, over the moon. They knew first hand what a tough place Sydney was to play in. In fact, in the second game of the tournament we won, the Futboltec Invitational held at the home of NPL team Blacktown City, they lost 6-1. They knew – we all knew – we had to snap out of it real quick if we were going to be competitive.

But these kids; they aren’t used to losing. Cairns is a small place – the talent pool is far smaller. When you think of the population in Sydney and the player catchment to match, the players down there have tough games much more regularly than we do. I think we literally have 100 x U12 players in the whole of Cairns.

Which is why we travel.

But winning anything is not a reason to get complacent. On any other day we could have been knocked out of the Futboltec Invitational after the pool games, such was the standard of the tournament. And besides, we had Japan to prepare for.

You can watch the Sydney trip highlights here.

Third place in the Yanmar Cup

And so the hard work continued for this talented group of players. They had club games, academy training, Japan training and for a short while, five-a-side.

They were ready.

The time came for us to jump on board a Jetstar flight en route Osaka and after 5 days in camp and 3 days of the tournament, our team – the squad from regional Queensland, the town most people down south think is in Brisbane – finished 3rd place out of 32 teams.

You can watch the Yanmar Cup trip highlights here.

I’ll be honest: never in my wildest dreams did I think I would take coaching juniors as seriously as I do. When I first started the academy it was to keep myself in the game I loved and I was proud to be able to give back to the town where it all started for me.

But now it’s a true passion. I’m excited by what’s to come if they keep working hard on their craft.

This group of players – many who are now are part of our U13 High Performance Program – have led the charge in the academy and the younger ones are following suit. This years U12’s are starting to really come along and show amazing signs, and I’m really excited by the U11’s, some of whom I’ve had since they were 7 or 8.

It’s a very overused cleache but I feel enormously privileged to be able to give back to my town. Football gave me a great life. I was able to travel the world and play for a living and while I worked very hard for that career I wouldn’t have chosen anything else to do. I had the same dreams as these players I now find myself mentoring. It’s now my job to help them make those dreams come true.


How to top an amazing year of growth at the academy? We have a few ideas.

Bridges at our workshop

Michael Bridges

Well for starters, we just had former Premier League star Michael Bridges join me for a 3-day workshop and it was absolutely immense. For Bridgey to pass on his experiences to these kids – even telling them stories about coming through the EPL academy system and making his Champions league debut at 19 years old – is absolutely priceless and they took so much away from it. For me, to be back with my mate Bridgey on the park was brilliant – although it wasn’t that long ago we played together for the A-League legends team against his mates from Liverpool and Manchester United in Adelaide. But still, coaching with him was fantastic and it’s an experience I am sure our players won’t forget – especially since they can still watch him as a TV pundit almost everywhere.

You can watch the Michael Bridges workshop highlights here.

National Tournament at West Barlow

In April we’re hosting a National Training Camp and Tournament at West Barlow featuring clubs and teams from all over the country. There will be 4 divisions – U10, U11, U12 and U13 – with the schedule including a 1 day advanced camp and 2 day tournament.

Our NATC in April

We will be appointing an expert coaching panel which will include current and former high-profile footballers to run the camp in a multi-station format with all the players mixed into age-appropriate stations. This will give all players participating a great opportunity to mix and train with players from other academies and teams and hopefully make some new friends in the process. When it’s time for the tournament, players will then go back into their teams and coaches and will compete for the trophy.

I am really excited to not only host a junior event of this size and quality in Cairns but also to coach some of the players travelling from other states.

Have a quality team you think would enjoy the trip to paradise? Get in touch.

While some of there age groups are nearly at capacity, we still have some spots for teams keen on visiting the far north and participating. We can help out with all your accomodation and meals to make the organisation easier for you – we know what it’s like to travel in big groups and so we got that covered. And what better way to combine football than with a tropical holiday visiting the Great Barrier Reef.

I’m a big believer in building strong relationships in football for the betterment of our next generation and we look forward to having everyone up in my town for this great event.

Zenon Caravella + Crios O’Hare

High Performance Program

Next week will see the start of our High Performance Program for ages U11, U12 and U13. It’s a 40 week program that will combine 2 sessions of football and 1 of strength and conditioning training with a personalised approach to football development. Players will be regularly tested and assessed ensuring they are closely monitored on areas to work on in their game. They will also all travel as squads to Sydney this July to compete against NPL clubs and academies on a week-long football trip, ensuring they continue to be challenged against high-level opposition. Next Level High Performance coach Crios O’Hare – who doubles up as a CFA football coach and NPL footballer – and I are looking forward to getting stuck into the program and we can’t wait to see these players really develop in this kind of elite environment.

One Ten – Nothing Less

We announced last week through a very embarrassing amateur photo shoot of me modelling some great lids that we’re changing suppliers and it’s with new threads brand One Ten Apparel. New to the market, they’ll be supplying team wear exclusive to CFA in 2018 and were excited to show you the new designs. We’re hoping to release the new kit in March.

One Ten’s tagline is “Nothing Less”, which stood out to me immediately. I have always been someone that gives 110% and we expect nothing less from our players. Our uniform policy has always been strict, especially when we travel – I always say if you look good, you feel good and you play great.

In the meantime, go follow One Ten here and if you’re a hat aficionado, check out their headwear.

Director of Coaching role at Edge Hill United

Late last year I accepted the role of Director of Coaching at Edge Hill United and it’s something I am really looking forward to sinking my teeth into. Clubland is a different beast to the academy format and for me it’s about being able to help lift the standard of coaching at a local level. It all starts at grassroots and I look forward to working with all age groups, including seniors.

My goals for 2018

My goals have never waivered since we started back in 2015: we want to make each player that steps on our pitch a better, more confident footballer. We don’t believe in selling unrealistic dreams to get you in the door, we aim to provide the highest quality football education in the region because without that, you simply don’t get better. I have assembled an amazing team of coaches and staff that each have significant experience playing and coaching the game. Myself, I was lucky enough to play over 300 professional games and I’m adding to that through formal education, having completed my B-Licence in November. In June I’ll head to Canberra to do the A-Licence with my fellow former footballers for a special course put on for the PFA alumni. But coaching kids, I believe, is so much more than the courses you do. It’s about being able to demonstrate the correct technique and giving players unique game insight that we as former players can because we’ve played for so long. We try to offer our players not just a football education but also a mindset – we act as mentors, constantly reminding them that there is still so much work ahead. We know; we’ve been there.

So 2018. It’s about more growth, more development and hopefully more success – as we keep on plugging away to get our Far North footballers on the map.

Here’s to a massive year.

Zenon Caravella

P.S There’s no yearly wrap-up without a big thank you to our major partners Cairns Total Physio. Having a sponsor like CTP is more than just business; it’s a mutual and working partnership with a common goal and that’s to develop and nurture young athletes. We look forward to seeing their logo loud and proud, front and centre on our new-look One Ten Apparel kits.

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