North Geelong Warriors FC is delighted to announce the arrival of 21-year-old goalkeeper Marko Stevanja, who has committed to the club for the 2017 NPL Victoria season.
Geelong local Stevanja arrives at the club having spent a number of years in the Melbourne City FC Youth academy, with stints at NPL2 clubs Werribee City and Dandenong City wedged in-between.
The former North Geelong Warriors youth player sat down with ngwfc.com.au to discuss the move, initial emotions and the season ahead.
Marko, coming back to your junior club, how does it feel to be back at the place you once called home?
“Amazing. It’s still home to me,” Stevanja said. “I thought it was the best time for me to come back. I always thought I’d be back eventually.
“It’s very clear that the team was exceptional last year, especially on the defensive front. For me, it’s an exciting challenge to not only push Zila [Daniel Žilić] but to push myself and break into the team and do my role.”
“Thankfully, I’ve settled in very well. I spent a couple months training with North Geelong during the 2016 season while I was going through my rehab and I feel like I’ve known these boys for years. It has been a seamless transition and it doesn’t feel like a foreign surrounding at all.”
“On a physical level, I feel great. Last year I came back mid-season at Werribee City, playing about 20 games there, and that’s put me in good stead for the coming year. In a sense, that spell acted as a mini pre-season for me. I’m fit, ready and I feel as though this will be the best season to date.”
“Micky and I have kept in touch ever since my stint training with the club last season. Even though I’ve never worked under Micky as one of his players, I feel like he and I have a good relationship. He knew I always had that desire to come back to the club and so when he reached out to me a few weeks ago, things began to fall into place.”
You touched on the fact that North Geelong has always been your home, will it tough to keep the emotions in check when you step out for that first game at Elcho Park?
“Even just the thought of it is very exciting. When I played against North Geelong back when I was at Dandenong City [in 2014], it was one of the favourite games of my career. To come out in front of the North faithful, even as an opposition player, was great. The thought of doing it every second week really is incredibly exciting.”
Sitting here in the clubrooms in front of the jerseys of the likes of Josip Skoko, Steve Horvat and the like, is it encouraging knowing that this is a club that knows how to support talented players with high ambitions?
“Without a doubt. I like to think of North Geelong as a place where I can be for the long term, a place where I can really push my case as a senior goalkeeper. I’ve spent a lot of time at youth level, playing in youth representative teams and the like, and that time was great, but I feel that now is the time for me to establish myself as a first team goalkeeper for a good few years and consistently show my qualities, rather than just sporadically over one or two years.”
Having been in a professional set-up for a number of years with Melbourne City, do you think this will assist you in your approach to your football at North Geelong?
“Yeah, of course. It was great to be in a professional environment where you’re training every day, but like I said my main goal now is to play senior football and establish myself at that level. This opportunity that I have in front of me now, to play first team football for a club in the top flight of Victoria football, is such an amazing opportunity. Seeing what other players have gone on to do after having some solid seasons in the NPL is a further motivator for me.”
In that sense, then, it must be encouraging to be able to work under a player who had a gloried playing career at both NSL and VPL level in North’s goalkeeper coach Adrian Čagalj.
“To be honest, working with Čagalj last year for the short time we spent together, was great. We developed a fantastic relationship and I found him unbelievable to work under. His style complements me very well. I’m excited to keep working under him and I think he can take me to a level that I haven’t been at yet.”
“The transition honestly has been seamless. I know the dressing room dynamic is a strong one. I’ve never seen anything like it before, let alone be a part of anything like it, and I can only imagine that it’s only going to help me beyond measure and help us all have a great year.”
Stay tuned for further player announcements in the coming days.