PSL / 17 August 2019, 10:20am / Bonginkosi Ndadane
Owen da Gama can talk up a cat to a point that you would see it as a dangerous lion, such is his penchant for hyperbole.
But the Highlands Park coach is surprisingly cautious in how he speaks about the Lions of the North’s potential this season after a great showing in the last campaign.
Da Gama insists they are still cubs, even though they fought so hard in their first season after gaining promotion from the National First Division that they ended up finishing in seventh place, qualifying for the MTN8 competition in which they take on Orlando Pirates in the quarter-finals at Orlando Stadium today (6pm kick-off).
“If you look at the teams with a smaller base, you could have 30 or 35 players like Pirates but the readiness on the bench and of the rest of the team is not the same. We fall a little bit behind,” Da Gama said.
“I think that’s what happened to Baroka FC as well after winning the Telkom Knockout. It affected them. They went through a slump.
“We’ve got to be very, very careful with regards to that situation where we want to achieve too much in a short space of time. For us, there is no doubt about it that our livelihood is the cup. It’s just our second season.”
Da Gama’s cautious approach stems from what he has seen happen to Free State Stars and Maritzburg United, who had a brilliant performance in the 2017/18 season, even reaching the Nedbank Cup final that was won by Ea Lla Koto. The success blinded those teams as they finished in the bottom two the following season. Stars were relegated and Maritzburg survived in the play-offs.
“Expecting us to be winning trophies, is a stretch,” Da Gama said.
“The important thing for us is to get game time. Playing against a big team like Pirates will help us to get better in the league.
“We really want to do better than we did last season, and the only way we can do that is by focusing on the league.
“But in saying that, there is no ways you can tell your team you mustn’t win against Pirates. You can’t do that! You’ve got to go out and try to win.
“But we have to try and root ourselves better in the Premier League. We don’t want to be a yo-yo team.”
The Lions of the North visit a wounded Pirates who were embarrassed by SuperSport United on Wednesday in the league.
A loss in the first leg of the CAF Champions League preliminary round in Zambia compounded the Buccaneers’ woes as the league and the Champions League are the two competitions they are eyeing this season.
A good run in the MTN8 could buy coach Micho Sredojevic and his technical team time in their quest to conquer the continent for a second time and bring the league that eluded them in the last two seasons.
But that won’t be easy, especially playing against a team that has nothing to lose.
“At Highlands Park there is Larry Brookstone who I have worked with for more than 20 years, from our days at Silver Stars,” Da Gama said.
“There’s also Brad Kaftel who is running a billion-dollar company. And these guys understand the process that’s involved in building a club and a business. They understand that I can’t come in and make miracles. I can’t. They understand that we will get off the rails from time to time.
“But what they want is us not making the same mistakes all the time. They want us to be consistent.”