While no stranger to finals in the past, the Central Coast Mariners have been absent from such show pieces for almost nine years. A tough period followed the glory of the 2013 A-League grand final victory and the club went through what can only be described as one of the worst runs ever experienced in Australian professional sport.
For so long, the team from Gosford were the easy beats, the team everyone wanted to play, the team that languished at the depths of the table for many years.
Giving youth a chance has been the motto of the club for some time, however their attitude toward that in recent times has not only raised an eyebrow from national teams, but fellow Australian clubs alike. So much so, that with one of the lowest budgets in the league, with the odds stacked against them, once again, the Central Coast Mariners are back on the biggest stage, and on Saturday will walk out at AAMI Park in the final of the FFA Cup.
When the cup run began in November 2021 in Mudgee, none would have thought the run to the final possible from the outside. Within the changerooms of the Tuggerah Centre of Excellence, there lay dormant a belief of possibility which was nurtured and developed by a man who is familiar to so many Mariners fans, Nick Montgomery.
The former captain turned coach has captivated the Central Coast region in ways that haven’t been seen since the so called “Glory Days” of Arnie and Hutch. It is no surprise that Montgomery was in the side that showed so much heart and desire in winning the club’s first A-League title and he has taken the learned experiences from his playing career at Sheffield United, to his early coaching career with the Mariners Academy, into the hallways of the Mariners first team headquarters with devastating effect.
His record so far speaks volumes to the style of play which he is attempting to implement, scoring goals, keeping clean sheets and playing an entertaining brand of football.
On Saturday evening in Melbourne, the job at hand is simple. Win and be crowned FFA Cup champions for the first time. After falling at the semi-final stage twice before, the preparation and dedication that has gone into this moment shouldn’t be overlooked after the club defeated Sydney FC 1-0 last month to reach their first FFA Cup Final.
The Mariners are a team that utilises youth to its fullest extent, a team that unites in the face of adversity, a team that believes.
After beating Blacktown City in the Round of 32, when the cards were dealt during the Wollongong Wolves match, the odds appeared stacked against the Yellow and Navy falling a goal behind and playing the last 60 minutes a man light. However, the resilience from the group of players on the park, on the bench and in the stands shone through, epitomising the cup run so far, coming back from a goal behind, to win in regular time.
Playing away from home has been a common theme throughout the cup so far and come Saturday, it will be five games played, five games played away from home. No team has ever won the FFA Cup playing every match away from home, but this feat, the Mariners will be looking to accomplish, proving the doubters wrong.
The chance of a home final at Gosford was unfortunately drawn away from the Coast, and with it, the opportunity to showcase the wonderful Central Coast region which in turn summarises the narrative of this cup for the Mariners. Overcoming adversity.
Instead, the venue will be the raucous AAMI Park where thousands of Melbourne Victory fans will pack the four walls and attempt to cheer their team to cup glory for the first time since 2015 around a small pack of travelling Mariners support.
In the Victory side that night and on the scoresheet was none other than now Mariners captain Oliver Bozanic who is relishing the opportunity to be playing in a final once more.
“It’s not everyday that you are into a final and it’s very exciting for the players. We’ve prepared well for this moment and we’re looking forward to the clash.
“Melbourne Victory have had a great start to the season and they are going in as favourites, but we are here to do a job and we are fully backing our team and our players to go there and put in a great performance.”
90 minutes may not seem like much to many, but to the fans of the Central Coast, these 90 minutes mean so much. After years of frustration and disbelief toward their beloved club, 90 minutes stand between their team and the opportunity to go down into the history books like the team of 2012/13.
If the odds weren’t already stacked against the team from Gosford, they will be without key players such as Matt Simon and new signing Jason Cummings. They’ll be playing away from home at a venue which has seen little Mariners success in recent time and coming up against a Melbourne Victory side which is coached by Tony Popovic who is no stranger to success having led Western Sydney Wanderers to the Asian Champions League.
Victory will be looking at these 90 minutes as the opportunity to cast aside the doldrums of last season’s wooden spoon and relinquish the success of past years.
Whatever the result, a pulsating 90 minutes lie ahead. The first piece of silverware of the season on the line. Who dares wins. Central Coast Mariners or Melbourne Victory?
Melbourne Victory v Central Coast Mariners
FFA Cup Final
Saturday 5th February 2022
8pm Kick Off
AAMI Park, Melbourne, Victoria
Broadcast Live on Network 10 and 10Play
Tickets: Click Here