Fit for duty

It's the scourge of many an S-League player, the seemingly harmless beep that causes footballers to shudder.

Ahmad Latiff has taken over 10 tries to pass it this season. Indonesia-based Noh Alam Shah lists it as one reason he's not keen on a return to Singapore yet.

Even five-time S-League top scorer Mirko Grabovac once struggled with the bedevilling Beep Test. But, for Geylang United midfielder Jozef Kaplan, sprinting to the sound of the beeps is a walk in the park.

While many are left gasping for breath as they chase the passing score of 13.1, the spiky-haired Slovak easily made the mark and proceeded to reach 14.13 at a Beep Test trial last Tuesday.

It's just shy of this season's highest score (for S-League registered players) of 15.1, set by Albriex Niigata players Yuhei Shiratori and Daiki Shoji.

In fact, Kaplan feels he can match or better that result.

Smiling, the 25-year-old told The New Paper: "I could have gone on for a while longer, but I had already passed and I was just running by myself (at this stage) so I just stopped."

Geylang captain Yazid Yasin, who has been doing the rounds in the S-League since its inception in 1996, called Kaplan "probably one of fittest players I have ever seen".

When TNP asked Eagles coach V Kanan about his Slovak midfielder's Energizer Bunny-esque fitness levels, he replied: "Jozef is the only one of my players who can beat me in a 2.4 (kilometre) run."

It might not seem that significant a statement from a 47-year-old, until you consider that Kanan represented Singapore in the marathon between 1986 and 1989. Even these days, he clocks a mean 8 minutes 50 seconds over 2.4km.

So how does Kaplan maintain such impressive levels of fitness?

He explained, in halting English: "In Slovakia, during the winter the pitches are frozen, so for two to three months we would mainly just run and do fitness work."

It's a regimen which seems to work for the former Tatran Liptovsky Mikulas man, whose speed in getting from one penalty box to the other surprises even his coach.

Said Kanan: "Tactically he's still a bit raw but his fitness level is superb.

"One moment he is in our penalty area and the next he is attacking in the opponents' box.

"Sometimes I get surprised by how fast he gets from one part of the pitch to the next.

"He's been our best player so far... (and) if we are going to turn our season around, he's going to be key."

Despite largely playing as a holding midfielder, Kaplan is the Eagles' top scorer with four goals from nine matches.

The superfit Slovak, though, feels his effervescent style is more suited for a more advanced role and his coach agrees, noting that should he be able to beef up the Eagles midfield, Kaplan would be deployed further forward.

Kanan has high hopes for his midfield dynamo, setting him a target of 10 goals this term.

Kaplan will be able to reach the halfway mark of his coach's goal target in just 10 games if he gets on the scoresheet when Geylang take on Albirex at Bedok Stadium tonight.

But, even if he doesn't find the net against the Japanese team, one thing's for sure - it won't be due to a lack of running.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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