Fort Hare are locked and loaded for their return to the FNB Varsity Football competition after a five-year absence and, if the drive of the players is anything to go by, their opponents may be in for a torrid time.
The university last appeared in the tournament in 2017. It was a year best forgotten as they lost all seven of their matches and only found the back of the net twice in some 630 minutes of football.
But that was then and this was now, said head coach Mongile Nyosana, who had been UFH kit manager during those troubled times.
From what he has seen at the team camp, currently underway in Alice, things will be very different this time round.
“In 2017 we didn’t have any of the East London-based players with us at the camp. Now they’re all here,” he said.
“Everyone is hungry to play. We are loading and loading and loading [for the tournament],” he said.
Fort Hare begin their campaign at home against Vaal University of Technology (VUT) on July 27.
While Varsity Football only allows a squad of 24 players, 30 are attending the camp hoping to make the final cut.
Nyosana said they were leaving nothing in the tank, both on and off the pitch.
The players hardly kicked a ball in anger during June as all the focus was placed on strength and conditioning, and now that they have returned to the training ground, the same intensity is evident in their set-moves and positional play.
The determination to make the final squad was evident in the five-a-side matches that formed part of their preparations, he said.
“The minute you give them the ball they’re kicking it. They are tired after training. They go straight to sleep afterwards.”
As much as Nyosana welcomes the competitiveness on display, he also wants to ensure that his charges remain humble.
If this trait shines through away from matches it will invariably lead to the players supporting one another on the field.
A former player himself, he understands the value of encouraging footballers to play their natural game while honouring the badge and their teammates.
In the past few seasons Fort Hare have become renowned for a smooth passing game, and nothing would change for Varsity Football, the coach said.
“I would say about half of teams are still playing Route 1 football, but we believe in our tiki-taka (short passing game made famous by the Spanish). If you keep the ball, you have a high chance of winning the game.”
Nyosana is delighted that they have drawn VUT in their first game, as Fort Hare have played them before.
“We’ve been planning for this game since the fixtures came out. The guys are very excited.
“Only two or three players have played a higher level before, so it will be a big step up for a lot of the guys.”
He is also thrilled that four of the university’s seven fixtures are at home, allowing their faithful fans to get a taste of Varsity Football action.
“We’ve been missing from this tournament for five years so we would love for the whole Alice community to come out and support us.”