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Watch: Five-star San Ġiljan look to compete in European waterpolo competitions

The team of the decade on Monday turned into the team of the new millennium. 

San Ġiljan were streets ahead of all the other contestants in the last few years but now they have ventured where no club has dared before.

In fact, the year 2023 will remain a special year for San Ġiljan after winning five pieces of silverware in six months, putting their name into the history books.

“It was a season you never wanted to end,” said club president Peter Bonavia, who has been at the club’s helm for the last four years.

“This rosy patch started well before my time but this year, we scaled new heights,” he added.

“To be honest with you, at the club, we thought that winning the championship this year was going to be very difficult. At one point, we thought that we weren’t going to make it,” he said.

Bonavia now wants to take the club to a new level.

“Our aim is to compete in the European competitions. This year, in preparation for the European Championship in Israel, the national team will take part in the League Challengers’ Cup but we are preparing to enter this competition in 2024,” he revealed.

No one will argue that the Saints were the best outfit this year.

Yet, there were times during this campaign when it appeared that their dream of winning a second successive championship would elude them.

Video: Matthew Mirabelli

In this campaign, San Ġiljan failed to beat Neptunes in the round-robin phase, losing badly to their fiercest rivals before the start of the Play-offs. 

Coach Zejlko Kovacic insisted that in that particular period, his team fell into the trap of becoming complacent.  He added that the defeat against Neptunes was a timely wake-up call.

“For me it was a blessing in disguise as my players were becoming over-confident,” he said.

“We won against Sliema 16-9 and then we were dominating Neptunes in our first match. At which point, the players thought that they could obliterate any opponent.

“So, we lost our shape, and I was feeling that a defeat was coming.”

Kovacic said that defeat punctured their invincible aura.

“It was a big shock to lose our unbeaten streak after 13 months. Yet, that defeat came at the right time as we had 15 days to reflect on our flaws,” he added. 

Video: Matthew Mirabelli

The Croatian mentor was quick to point out that his team’s character and qualities helped them win this year’s major honours.

“The mental strength and power to recover in difficult moments were evident as the team peaked at the right time,” he said.

As for the players’ contribution to this year’s success, sharp-shooter Mako Jokovic and the powerful Aaron Younger formed a fearsome scoring tandem in the late stages of the competition.

They were emulated by the ever-dependable captain Matthew Zammit who adapted himself admirably to his less offensive role, while Ben Plumpton was the usual forceful attacker.

Jake Tanti was again an unbreakable wall. Yet the hallmark of this year’s success was undoubtedly the team’s strength-in-depth.

“Our squad had strength-in-depth and that enabled our coach to rope in more than valid players in particular situations. At the club, we never speak of the first seven, but players are rotated according to the coach’s plan for particular situations and opponents,” Peter Bonavia added.

For example, Nicholas Bugelli and Nikolai Zammit made their presence felt with goals every time they were called in, while Andreas Galea, stepped up his game in crucial moments after starting on the bench most of the games this season.

Jake Bonavia came of age, while Darren Zammit and Jeremy Abela were lauded for their tactical work.

Captain Matthew Zammit savoured the hard-earned title.

“Last year, we won the double and you can’t really better that,” he added.

“It’s hard enough to get to the top but staying there is even more difficult because the other teams will be motivated to bring you down. This year, we took it to a new level.

“In the past years, people would speak of Sliema and Neptunes (as unbeatable sides), today, everyone is speaking about us and it is not going to be easy for any of our rivals to dethrone us.”

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