Stronger S League, stronger Lions

Stronger S League, stronger Lions
Hariss Harun (centre)
PHOTO: NP, Gary Goh

The new year often brings about renewed challenges, and new peaks to climb.

For Singapore's midfield general Hariss Harun, 2016 will present those, as well as a chance to "set things right".

"(This year's Suzuki Cup) is very important to me because the last one was a big disappointment for us," said the 25-year-old Johor Darul Ta'zim I (JDT I) player on the sidelines of an event to launch enhanced facilities at Nanyang Polytechnic, his alma mater, on Wednesday.

"We went into the tournament as defending champions, but we left it in a very disappointing manner, and I think it's up to us to set things right this year."

The Lions, winners of the biennial ASEAN competition for a record fourth time before the 2014 edition, co-hosted the group stages with Vietnam that year, and exited the competition during the group stages after a 2-1 loss to eventual winners Thailand, and a 3-1 loss to arch-rivals Malaysia.

Speculation of unrest in the dressing room, as well as calls for national coach Bernd Stange's sacking surfaced in the aftermath of the Lions' exit on home ground.

While the expulsion of the LionsXII - who contribute the bulk of players to the national team - from Malaysian domestic competitions, and their eventual disbandment, have been shockers in the local football scene, Hariss believes that the Lions will not suffer the after-effects in their Suzuki Cup campaign.

Rather, the spread of former LionsXII players into the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League in the upcoming season may actually help boost the Lions.

"The LionsXII project was very good; when we won the Suzuki Cup in 2012, most of the players came from this centralised team," said Hariss, who became the first Singaporean to win the Asian Football Confederation Cup last year with JDT I.

"But, when we won it in 1998, 2004 and 2007, we were in the same situation as we are in now: most of the players came from the S.League.

"This season, the S.League will be more competitive with the (LionsXII) players spread out to the various teams... and, when it's more competitive, naturally there would be more players who will put themselves in contention for a national team call-up.

"If you have a strong league, you will have a competitive national team."

Hariss added that he is heartened with the renewed interest in the S.League and hopes that the interest will grow when the season starts next month.

The three-time winner of the MSL (2013-2015) said: "I hope the fans would come back and support the teams and the players.

"This can only have a spillover effect on the national team because the players who you follow week in, week out, are there in the national team."

In addition to his aspirations for the national team, the midfield dynamo is focused on getting his fitness back on track in pre-season - which started on Wednesday - for the new MSL season.

While he has won two league titles, an AFC Cup winners' medal, and a Malaysia Cup runners-up medal with the Southern Tigers, Hariss is hungry for more success, having signed a new two-year deal last November.

He said: "We want to defend the titles we won last year; it won't be easy in the MSL because a lot of teams have strengthened their squads, and it is not easy to defend a title in a competition as big as the AFC Cup.

"We also hope to qualify for the Asian Champions League (JDT I were knocked out in the preliminary stages last season); we have a play-off end of this month and I am looking forward to that."

This article was first published on Jan 8, 2016.
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