James Virgili puts disappointment aside to savour grand final victory

MEMORABLE: James and Luke Virgili celebrate on stage with the Northern NSW NPL championship trophy at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

MEMORABLE: James and Luke Virgili celebrate on stage with the Northern NSW NPL championship trophy at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

THE thrill of winning a grand final with his brother, Luke, has helped James Virgili push aside the disappointment of missing out on a return to the Newcastle Jets.

The 26-year-old set up a goal for John Majurovski with a pinpoint cross in Broadmeadow’s 3-0 win over premiers Edgeworth in the Northern NSW NPL grand final on Saturday night at McDonald Jones Stadium.

No stranger to the stadium, ‘Chill’ played 57 A-League games for the Jets from 2008-15 and he had hope of a comeback when the club gave him a trial in July. He featured on the Jets’ week-long tour of China, where they won a pre-season tournament. Coach Ernie Merrick said before the trip that Virgili could be invited in to train after the NNSW NPL season. Virgili, though, went into the decider knowing that chance had gone.

“I obviously had that Jets opportunity during the year but they let me know last week they were going with another player, but I’m more than happy here,” Virgili said amid grand final celebrations. “I’ll be here next season and so will Luke.”

The grand final win, Magic’s first since 2013, was also the first together for the Virgili brothers, who were part of the losing 2016 side. 

“It beats any feeling I’ve ever had in and around football,” James said. “It’s memories like this that you cherish.

“I went to the Jets when I was about 16 so I haven’t played in a grand final, apart from 2016, since I was a junior, so it’s great to get some trophies this year. Hopefully we can push on next year.”

Before 2016, the brothers had only one season together, in under 19s at Edgeworth.

“We obviously got to the grand final a couple of years ago with Dad [Robert] as coach, and it would have been good to win that one, but we got beat by Edgy, so it was good to get this one with James,” Luke, 27, said.

Magic coach Ruben Zadkovich was pleased the Jets gave James a chance to impress.

“I think it’s good for everyone,” Zadkovich said.

“It shows the Jets are willing to have a good look at the best players in the local competition. It shows they care and they are looking, and there is a pathway.

“With James, they’ve decided to go a different way, and that’s fine.

“But it’s a great reflection on Chill, our club and the Jets that they are willing to look at the best local talent.”

He believed there was a “lot of talent in NPL level” worthy of a chance.

“I reckon there are guys there who could get an opportunity and do really well in the A-League,” he said.

Virgili overcame a hamstring strain to return in time for the second-leg semi-final against Maitland and the grand final.

“That time away with the Jets probably contributed to my hamstring problem because I played a few NPL games and then overseas around that, there was a bit of overload,” James said on grand final night.

“But the first half I thought I played well and the second half it was just about getting back and protecting that lead.”

Luke played a key role for Magic at centre-back in the absence of the suspended Jon Griffiths. He was glad to have James back in time for the decider.

“He was a bit off last week by his own standards, but that was understandable because he’d been off for so long, but tonight I thought he was top notch,” Luke said on Saturday night.

“I think he was the best one for us in that first half, he was just getting down that line and putting great balls into the box and he was quality.”