Typically, the defending champions heads into a new season with a target on their back and are seen as the team to beat. That doesn’t seem to be the case with the Abu Dhabi Wildcats.
Instead, the team come into the 2014-15 campaign having wiped the slate clean and looking to prove themselves all over again.
“It’s a new season so everyone is on an equal playing field, so that defending champion thing, I don’t subscribe to,” said Wildcats coach Charles Gillespie.
In their quest to defend the title, Wildcats open their season against the Al Ain Desert Foxes (kick-off 17:00), who went winless at 0-6 last year.
Two of those losses came at the hands of the Wildcats, who hammered Al Ain 26-6 and 30-0.
Nevertheless, Gillespie’s team isn’t looking past the Desert Foxes or expecting an easy win to begin their 2014-15 campaign.
“We respect every opponent and that’s the mark of any football team or in any competitive sport,” said Gillespie. “You respect your opponent that’s put in front of you and you give them your best.”
For Al Ain, they’re looking for a fresh start under new coach Johnny Sharp.
Coming to the UAE with 18 years of coaching experience around the US, including at powerhouse Damascus High School, Sharp is setting a different tone.
“I can’t even compare this year to last year because I wasn’t there,” Sharp said.
“My approach is going to be drastically different than how they coached last year. If nothing else, I’m the difference between this year and last year. The coaching has been upgraded.
“The first thing is, it’s a lot more football this year than it was in previous years. It’s a lot more of a football atmosphere with some of the new coaches that were brought in this year from the States that bring solid and sound football.”
Abu Dhabi and Al Ain finished at different points last season but have similar aspirations this year.