APIA Leichhardt Tigers’ Sam McIlhatton cannot wait for his first taste of Grand Final action at Bankwest Stadium this Saturday night.
After skippering Sydney FC’s National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s side last season, the dynamic midfielder made the shift to APIA prior to the 2019 campaign.
Since then, the 2018 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s Team of the Season member has firmly established himself as one of the first names on John Calleja’s team sheet.
McIlhatton is one of the favourites to claim APIA’s Player of the Year Award; a testament to his stellar maiden campaign with the club.
The 21-year-old is relishing his time at the club and revealed he has treasured linking up with their experienced squad.
“The decision to move came because my time was up at Sydney FC and I had to find another club fairly quickly,” McIllhatton recalled.
“This season’s been extremely enjoyable, playing with all of the older guys at APIA.”
One of the more seasoned professionals who recently joined the squad is Nick Stavroulakis, a battling central-midfielder of similar mould to McIllhatton.
Stavroulakis was full of praise for the youngster.
“Sam is a robust player who can run up-and-down all day,” the 34-year-old said.
“We play in the same position and have had to deal with the same issues in terms of our stature on the pitch.
“But once you start doing what you do best, people forget about the height factor.
“He is a top kid, who asks all of the right questions at the right moments.
“His game has come along in leaps and bounds over the last few months.”
Heading into his maiden experience of the big stage, McIllhatton is primed for the occasion.
“We’re just approaching it like any other game,” the youngster said.
“Everyone’s excited, it’s my first Grand Final so I’m really looking forward to it.
“Hopefully I can continue doing what I’ve been doing throughout the season.
“I’m just going to do my job and try and help the team in any way I can.
“We do have plenty of experience in the Grand Final, so hopefully third time lucky!”
By National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s Reporter Chris Curulli (Twitter handle @ChrisCurulli)