1 on 1: McKinna

The main man on the Mariners’ season four charge.

Central Coast Mariners Football Manager Lawrie McKinna has been at the helm of the coaching staff that has propelled the Mariners to two Hyundai A-League Grand Finals, two Pre-Season Cup finals, the Hyundai A-League 2007/08 Premiers Plate and a berth at the 2009 AFC Champions League.

McKinna-s ambition has been for the club to embrace the community and he has followed this goal to the letter in ensuring that Bluetongue Stadium, the Mariners- picturesque bay side home, has seen steadily welcoming more and more spectators through it-s turnstiles over three Hyundai A-League seasons.

McKinna has never been one to seek the limelight but he has created a successful culture for the Central Coast and has proved to be one of the genuine characters of the Australian game.

McKinna encourages loyalty from his players and has practiced what he preaches – being one of only two inaugural Hyundai A-League coaches still in charge of their respective club in Australia-s premier domestic football competition.

During the October FIFA international break, McKinna took time out from his busy schedule to chat to www.ccmariners.com.au, about his impression of the first round of the Hyundai A-League 2008/09 season and his goals for the remainder of the campaign.

Now we have finished the first round of season four of the Hyundai A-League with the Mariners sitting fairly comfortably on the table, how would you describe the season so far?

We-re reasonably happy where we are sitting at the end of the first round. Since the first game of the season we-ve had usually around five or six boys missing so that-s been a pleasing aspect that we-ve been able to produce consistently good performances with a weakened squad. I-m happy with all our performances so far except maybe that first up game against Newcastle. We got the draw but we had an opportunity to win a tough game away from home so it was slightly disappointing. The same thing happened against Melbourne so overall, yes I-m happy with the style of play we are playing so far. I think we are scoring some good goals which is very pleasing but at the moment we seem to be letting a few too many in which is something we need to address heading into the next round.

Season four has thrown up some challenges so far, including two very frustrating draws and some high profile injuries, has that affected team morale?

The injuries haven-t really affected team morale but it-s obviously very disappointing for the players because they are key players to our squad. On a positive note over the next four weeks we start to get some of those players back and challenging for positions again. The morale was probably at its lowest after the Melbourne Victory game – the boys were absolutely gutted. Against Newcastle a draw as a fair result but then again up 1-0 one minute to go away from home you probably are entitled to expect a result. Melbourne was probably the hardest game for all the guys with four seconds to go so we really had to work hard that week to get the boys up for the game against Peth. Before the game, Melbourne was the form team of the league so you would take a draw so dealing with that has been the biggest challenge.

Ian Ferguson was recently appointed head coach of the new North Queensland Hyundai A-League outfit. You had an incredibly successful partnership with him over a number of years, is it surreal to look at the empty seat next to you on game day?

It will be very different next year, I think more so than right now. Fergie was with me for six to seven years as a player, assistant coach and up here with the Mariners and he-s a great mate. Next year when we bash heads against each other it will be a bit strange but I-m sure it will be a lot of fun as well. The same thing happened with me and David Mitchell. I was with David for five great years at Sydney United and then Parramatta. Now we are on opposite sides of the fence where we hug each other before the game and shake hands again after the game. We both are really good friends but once we walk out on the pitch we just want the best for our respective teams. I think it will be funny to see Fergie on the other side of the fence. Fergie will definitely be the intense coach, I-m the laid back one of the two of us.

You have always been a manager committed to your craft, what has been the highlights working with the Central Coast throughout the history of the Hyundai A-League?

Obviously it would have to be the two Grand Dinals and how the community have really got behind us. It-s hard to believe that when we first started we-ve gone from about four thousand people at our games to sell-out crowds on three consecutive weeks last season. It-s also really good now to go down to the shopping centre on game days and see the kids, mums and dads wearing jerseys and other gear. I think we-ve turned the Central Coast into a football town and our supporters are our biggest asset. It makes me very proud to think we-ve changed the culture up here from a rugby league town to a football town. I love the way that people support and respect us. The club has a lot going for it.

Most coaches would have a week-off during the FIFA international break, not so for you how was your experience helping New Caledonia?

That was a great experience I was doing a lot of promos, a lot of talks and a lot of speeches and they were some of my better ones. I was over there for four days and we just had meetings and spoke and made some friendships. It was a great experience. Maybe in the next FIFA break down the track we could explore the possibility of going over and having a game over there because there were a lot of talented young players over there. The best thing is it is only two and a half hours away, I honestly thought it was five or six hour flight. There is a lot of talent over there and maybe in the future we can tap into their best young talent and give them opportunities to develop as footballers.

With football in Australia taking off you must be salivating over Adelaide-s recent success in Asia. Does seeing results like that spur you on knowing that you-re next in line?

Definitely, I think what Adelaide has achieved has been absolutely outstanding. Going through the first group stage and then their recent performances in the knockout rounds has been amazing to watch. Especially since when the competition started they were out of season and were playing Asian sides that were match fit. I don-t think the Australian public fully realises yet the enormity of what they have done. I don-t know what the budget of the team they played against in the semi final was but they certainly travel in style. Full credit to Adelaide for their achievements and from our perspective we are definitely looking forward to the challenge of playing in Asia next year.

It must be pleasing from your perspective to see players achieve their potential. Is that the ultimate satisfaction from coaching?

Yes it is. To see Mile Jedinak, Matt Simon, Danny Vukovic, Nigel Boogaard, and Andrew Redmayne get various degrees of international recognition is fantastic to see. We can only give advice to help them improve but it-s great to see they listen, take it on board and continue to develop as players.

What realistically are your goals for the team for the rest of the season?

We are happy where we are at now but hopefully we keep on improving in the second round and start picking up points. We won the Premiership last year and I believe the squad is strong enough to do it again and win the Grand Final as well as the AFC Champions League – but I-m not greedy! In all seriousness though, I believe we have a very good team and if we keep improving the results will take care of themselves.

With the new National Youth League taking off and the competition looking likely to expand in the future, the sky appears to be the limit for football in this country. In what directions do you see the domestic game heading?

I still think there is a lot of room for improvement. It-s improved very quickly but it can get better still. I think the new National Youth League will have teething problems in its first season as all new competitions do but I think long term, it will be a major bonus for the Hyundai A-League, as we now have a system where we can develop young talent, get them into a team environment at a young age and then call them up to first team football when the need arises. The Westfield W-League is a brilliant concept as well, the Socceroos are doing well and we are trying to win the FIFA World Cup hosting rights in the future as well, yes the game is heading in a positive direction domestically.

Many of the Mariners squad have been with you since the Northern Spirit and Parramatta Power, how do you foster this obvious loyalty both to you and your methods?

I think you have to be able to develop a relationship based on trust. I-d like to think that when I sign a player and you give him a job to do he is going to go out and do it. That-s why we haven-t signed many overseas players because we know the boys so well here, we know their skills and their character and they can do the job. We will stick by it because it has worked for us previously. It-s a two way street though and if they show us loyalty we give it back and I think that has been very successful. The club has been very stable on and off the park and I think that is shown by the number of foundation players still with the club.

What are the challenges in keeping the close knit community spirit and connection as the club and the competition get bigger, and the club signs higher profile players?

I think that-s been one of our strengths. We had to embrace the community at the beginning and the club can-t afford to forget that. If we do, the community will forget about us and all the hard work is wasted. I think the main goal right now is to continue building on this community relationship and the foundations from season one and it is certainly something I intend to do for as long as I-m here.

After season one of the Hyundai A-League, the club seemed to struggle to get results after the success of qualifying for the Grand Final, last season the team managed to do so again but the results so far have been more promising. Do you put this down to experience?

I think it-s the squad. I think in year two people thought the hard work was done by making the Grand Final. I think the boys learned that lesson the hard way. Last season they did the hard yards to win the Premiership but then realised you have to work harder again to win that title. I think we-ve been lucky in the first few years in that we were able to fly under the radar a bit but we can-t do that now. People have realised we are one of the most consistent sides in the competition and I think the boys have realised that for these results to continue we need to work hard.