Young Victory striker Velupillay doing all the right things under Popovic

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With the COVID-19 pandemic an ever-present factor this season, many would expect the ongoing disruptions to wreak havoc on the league’s youth who are just finding their feet.

But Melbourne Victory striker Nishan Velupillay is thriving in his first season in Melbourne Victory’s senior squad, saying that regardless of the situation, he and his side are going to show up ready.

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“We feel pretty good right now, Popa (head coach Tony Popovic) told us at the start of the season that this was going to happen at some point so I think we’re well prepared,” he said.

“We’re a resilient group and we’re just going to deal with the situation at hand.”

At an individual level, Velupillay has spent four years in the club’s development program, including the past couple of years that have been heavily disrupted by lockdowns and restrictions.

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He admits that it hasn’t been an easy 24 months, but that at the end of the day, professional sport is about having this kind of commitment.

“You have to make sacrifices for sure,” he said.

“Having to go through that struggle leads to a bigger reward at the end, and I guess I’m reaping those rewards now.”

If anything, Velupillay suggests, the packed schedules that have resulted from leagues dealing with COVID have led to more opportunities for inexperienced players to get some much-needed opportunities.

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“The fact that sometimes the main 11 guys can’t make a three-day turnaround means that some younger guys get a chance,” he said.

“I thought the other night against Gold Coast there were some young guys that came in and played really well which is encouraging to see.”

With this season also being his first under new coach Popovic, the striker says he’s learned a lot from his new mentor.

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“I’m really enjoying it,” the 20-year-old said.

“He’s been so good to me since the start of preseason and he’s helped so much in this short span, I’m really looking forward to seeing what else he can get out of us as a group.”

Despite his reputation as a hard task-master, Velupillay said Popovic has given the side a license to play without fear.

“He really allows me to express myself in the front third, and I think that’s been great for my confidence and development as a player,” he said.

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One of the key messages that seems to have rubbed off on the youngster is the importance of keeping himself present in the moment. It’s arguably sports most popular cliché, but focusing on one week at a time really does help to ground newer players.

Velupillay echoed this sentiment while discussing his sides upcoming FFA Cup match against Adelaide United.

“We’ve got to stay in the moment and play our brand of football,” he said.

“They’re a quality side coming off a win, but we’ve got to trust that our discipline and structure will get us over the line.”

The words of a man who is saying all the right things, and making his mark on the pitch as well. Remember the name.

Feature Image Credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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Mitchell Turner
Third Year Undergraduate Arts Student at Monash University (Journalism Major). Generic sports tragic living out my failed dreams of going pro vicariously through other people.

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