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ALM: Aquilina praises Stanton for belief in young players

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Versatile Thomas Aquilina has praised Newcastle Jets coach Rob Stanton for his belief in the team’s young players.

The 22-year-old is just one of a handful of the club’s A-League Men’s (ALM) stars who are on the cusp of higher representative honours, with the 2024 Olympic Games at the back of their minds.

Team-mates Lucas Mauragis and Mark Natta were named in the Olyroos, late in 2023, for friendlies against Saudia Arabia and Qatar.

Clayton Taylor’s also impressing national selectors, while striker Archie Goodwin remains on their radar, too.

Thomas Aquilina shows off his defensive skills. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

While Stanton has unfairly copped criticism for promoting youngsters, at the expense of senior campaigners, you won’t get any complaints from Aquilina.

“Rob’s brilliant,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“He’ll have a little chat with you here and there on the training field, he’ll pull you aside just to mentor you and talk to you about your position, upcoming games.

“He’s amazing like that.

“Plus, his attention to detail is second to none… same with the Damir (Prodanovic) and the coaching staff.

“They’re here to help us and that’s important for us as individuals.

“Obviously, Rob boasts a lot of experience, after being with Sydney FC and enjoying many triumphs there.

“He’s also won championships as a player, coached others to plenty of success.

“His resume speaks for itself… it’s terrific to have someone like that at the Jets.

“So, learning off him is amazing so far.

“He’s always said that ‘if you get the call-up, I’m not going to hold you back. That’s something that you’ve achieved and worked for’.

“If we can get those five or six guys into the Olyroos, into camps or into national teams, even the Joeys and Young Socceroos, it’s a big bonus for the club.”

Thomas Aquilina is hoping to represent the Olyroos at the 2024 Olympics. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

Apart from performing strongly for Newcastle on a weekly basis, and possibly playing finals, Aquilina hopes to be Paris-bound in July.

“The Olympics at the end of the season is the biggest goal, to be in that squad for France,” he said.

“But, after enduring a few hamstring injuries, I need to get more games under my belt.

“As well, I must consolidate my role with the Jets, I’ve moved from left back to right back and now wing, so that versatility might come in handy moving forward.

“I spent 90 minutes there at the weekend.

“I’m trying to get a better understanding of the position, so every game’s a benefit.

“Each role on the field is important in modern day football.

“However, I’m feeling more comfortable, the main aim is to help the side score goals, chalk up wins and assists.

“So, if I keep playing well and keep learning, that’ll hold me in good stead.

“I believe that under-23 squad might be the one of the hardest to pick out of all the Olympic campaigns.

“There’s a lot of players overseas who can put their hand up.

“We’ve even got Clayton [Taylor], who’s a little bit younger, knocking on the door.

“For me, it was a tough start to the year with the hamstring and I missed the tour to Saudi Arabia, so that was a little hit.

“But, I’m back playing now and, hopefully, the consistency will follow… I’m going to be knocking on that door, too.”

Aquilina was instrumental in Newcastle’s 2-0 victory over Western United at McDonald Jones Stadium, much to his – and the fans – delight.

“It was amazing heading into the sheds afterwards,” he said.

“To get that first home win in front of a good crowd, walking into the New Year with a victory… it’s very positive.

“It was a massive match in the context of our season.

“We’ve got some tough fixtures coming up, so to get that win and momentum was huge for us.

“I don’t think anyone really understands how difficult the first half of the year has been.

“We’ve travelled a lot.

“Now, we have another three on the road before we return home.

“It’s an important period for us.

“If we can pick up points away from Newcastle, it’ll be crucial.”

Aquilina said the Jets were “quietly confident” of upstaging fifth-placed Macarthur Bulls at the Campbelltown Sports Stadium on Friday 5 January.

“Even though they’ve had a good start to the season, they’re coming off a loss and they’ve had a tough fixture with the Asian Cup as well,” he said.

“So, it’s going to be fairly even.

“They’ve got dangerous players, so do we.

“However, like I mentioned earlier, the next few months are vital for us on the ladder.

“We’re a top six team If we put it all together.

“We’ll continue to learn and grow.

“Wins are going to come, losses are going to come and mistakes are going to come.

“But, I think if we really crack down over that period, we have a good shot to make the play-offs.”

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