ERNIE Merrick concedes that Roy O’Donovan has made “two major mistakes” but the Jets coach will not ask the feisty Irishman to tone down his playing style.
O’Donovan was front and centre as the Jets began pre-season training at Ray Watt Oval on Friday.
The A-League pre-season, one of the longest in world football, will be extended for the 32-year-old who was suspended for 10 matches for a reckless, high-foot challenge on Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas flush in the face in the dying stages of the Jets’ controversial 1-0 loss in the grand final.
The Jets have appealed against the severity of the ban and a hearing has been penciled in for July 10.
The ban – the second largest in A-League history – was O’Donovan’s third in three seasons in Australia.
He served two-games last season for a clash with Sydney defender Jordy Buijs and received an eight-game ban two seasons ago when, playing for Central Coast, he head-butted Wellington's Manny Muscat.
“If you look at Roy’s history since he was a professional as a 17 year old, he has rarely had yellow cards, very rarely had red cards and has made two major mistakes, I think, in the A-League that he regrets,” Merrick said. “I have never questioned his style. I like the way he plays. I like his competitiveness. Although he did what he did in the grand final, I think he is not that type of character. If he was that type of character, I would make sure he wasn’t at this club.”
The Jets, with 20 players signed and on deck for start of pre-season bar Dimi Petratos and Ronny Vargas, are far more advanced than last season.
“Last year we had 10 weeks to sign 13 players, now we have 16 weeks to sign two,” Merrick said. “We are in a pretty good position and we will do our due diligence to make sure we get the right players. To know that we have almost a full squad ready from day one with a full pre-season ahead of us is ideal for a coach. Whenever the pre-season has been complete and thorough, the teams I have worked with have gone well into the finals.”
Kiwi Matthew Ridenton, a like-for-like replacement for Riley McGree (Melbourne City) was the only fresh face on Friday.
“I [first] signed Matthew as a 17-year-old at Phoenix,” Merrick said. “He is a similar player to Riley McGree – he can defend, he can play as a number ten, he can play as a number eight, he has good engines, he has played 70 games in the A-League already and is only 22.”
Merrick noted a “real positivity” at training and confirmed the players were in for a tough pre-season.
“I have always believed the tougher and more horrible the pre-season, the more players look forward to starting the season and having a big year,” he said. “The level of expectation will have risen which is a good thing. We want to see if we can go one better than last year.”
A squad, minus some senior players, will head to China next week for a tournament featuring Sydney, Beijing Guoan and Shanghai Shenhua.
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