Hasrin wants to re-create winning mentality of 2001 Geylang side
The early season S.League title talk has revolved mostly around Tampines Rovers, with Albirex Niigata, Home United and Warriors FC mentioned as possible contenders.
But Geylang International, one of just four local winners in the league's 20-year history, have largely flown under the radar.
Not any more.
In their first two league matches, they more than matched last season's top two, with draws against defending champions Brunei DPMM FC (1-1) and runners-up Tampines (3-3).
They might even have come away with maximum points, as they took the lead in both games only to allow the opponents to come back.
Geylang coach Hasrin Jailani is comfortable with the fact that few, if any, have picked his side to upset the established order.
The 40-year-old has been in this position before as a player, coincidentally also with the Eagles.
It was 2001 and SAFFC (now known as the Warriors) were the top dogs. In fact, in the first seven seasons of the S.League, the army boys were always in the top two.
But the Eagles managed to swoop for the title, their second since the inaugural 1996 season and they have not won again.
"Times are different now but I do see some similarities," said Hasrin, who is in his first stint as head coach of an S.League team.
"Then, as it is now, we had a handful of key players who have national-team experience and very healthy competition for a place in the first 11.
"In 2001, we had Lionel Lewis, Noor Ali, Zulkarnaen Zainal, Azhar Baksin and Winston Yap; now, we have Daniel Bennett, Isa Halim, Sahil Suhaimi and Gabriel Quak.
"We had top foreigners like Aleksandar Duric, Billy Bone and Brian Bothwell, and we are hoping that Yuki Ichikawa, Carlos Delgado and Branko Cubrilo can be just as successful.
"I want to re-create the winning mentality we had in 2001. So far, despite being a new team, we already have very good team spirit - which was also a hallmark of the title-winning side.
"We have the quality, but it's too early to be talking about the title. However, it is the vision of the management to bring glory back to Geylang International over the next few years."
To do so, they must build on their promising start and make it a habit of beating weaker sides such as the Garena Young Lions in tonight's match at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Hasrin definitely has the firepower to blow away the Under-21 side.
Central midfielder Delgado and winger Stanely Ng have already opened their accounts, as has striker Sahil, who is looking to make himself a worthy successor to Singapore's No. 1 striker Khairul Amri.
The 23-year-old scored 10 goals for the Young Lions in 2014, and grabbed six for the LionsXII - including two in the Malaysian FA Cup final win over Kelantan - despite regularly featuring on the bench.
Perhaps what Geylang were lacking in the two previous draws was a leader in the middle of the park to control the tempo and calm the nerves. Back in 2001, the Eagles had won the title with the league's best defence, conceding just 28 goals in 33 games.
So Hasrin hopes the return of skipper Isa Halim from suspension will be just the fillip to help the new Geylang management record their first win and a timely clean sheet.
The 29-year-old was a central midfield star when Singapore last won the Suzuki Cup in 2012, but had been struggling with an Achilles tendon spur and knee injuries in the last two years.
Keen to fight for a place in the next Suzuki Cup squad, Isa said: "With all the positive buzz going on, it was tough to sit out the first two games and I'm really looking forward to make my Geylang debut against the Young Lions.
NEED TO IMPROVE
"From the sidelines, I could see that we need to improve on our concentration levels. It is not good to concede in every game, especially after working hard to get the lead. But we are still in the gelling process and we will definitely get better.
"Hasrin is a good young coach with many new ideas - which you can see from the tactical changes he makes during a game.
"There is really a feel-good factor in the dressing room and the new management has done very well to help the new team settle down.
"Many of the players were signed on two-year contracts, which does not happen a lot in the S.League these days. We want to repay their faith by doing well on the pitch."
Hasrin is a good young coach with many new ideas — which you can see from the tactical changes he makes during a game. There is really a feel-good factor in the dressing room and the new management has done very well to help the new team settle down.
— Isa Halim on Geylang International’s coach Hasrin Jailani