Dynamic Youngsters are raring to go

Playing in a Grand Final is always something very special, playing in one as a teenager, even more so.

Playing in a Grand Final is always something very special, playing in one as a teenager, even more so.

The Central Coast Mariners- two “M-s”, Mathew Ryan, and Mustafa Amini, have taken season six of the Hyundai A-League by storm, culminating in Ryan-s naming as NAB Young Footballer of the Year last Monday night.

Their infectious personalities, and undeniable talent, have allowed them to blend seamlessly into the A-League. Quickly capturing fan interest, and more importantly earning the senior players respect.

The bond between the two young guns and their fans was apparent at today-s Grand Final Fan Day held at Bluetongue Stadium. A crowd of around 400 turned out to support their team during an open training session.

Ahead of the biggest games of their fledging careers, Ryan and Amini took time out to talk about what playing in the domestic game-s showpiece means to them.

Mat Ryan-s story is well known. He spent last season honing his skills in the Mariners- premiership winning National Youth League side. After sitting on the bench for a few games as Danny Vukovic-s backup, and Andrew Redmayne-s departure for the Brisbane Roar, he was signed as the number two goalkeeper ahead of the 2010/11 campaign.

Jess Vanstrattan returned home to the Coast via Gold Coast United after a spell in Europe and was Graham Arnold-s first choice custodian heading into the season. A season-ending knee injury threw Ryan into the hot seat, and he made his Hyundai A-League debut in the pressure-cauldron of the Sydney Football Stadium.

Many thought this would be only a temporary solution, but Arnold had faith in his young ‘keeper and stuck with him for the long haul. There were mistakes along the way, but Ryan repaid his coach by keeping 13 cleansheets, and recording 97 saves along the way.

Ryan was formally recognised for his efforts when he was awarded the NAB Young Player of the Year honour at the Hyundai A-League awards on Monday night. The youngster though has a very level head on his shoulders, and is modest about the accolades, preferring to focus on the team-s efforts.

“I still wake up every morning pinching myself. Who would have thought that I would have played 30 games, won the award, and played in a Grand Final,” said Ryan.

“Arnie just said to keep my feet on the ground and wants me to just get focused for this weekend. I would give up that award to win the championship for the team. There-s no doubt about that.”

Ryan, who had outstanding match in the 1-nil victory over Gold Coast United in the Preliminary Final, which included an outstanding double save late in match says he still can-t believe the result of Saturday night.

“It-s every kid-s dream to be an influence on a match. Words can-t explain how I felt on the weekend. Sunday would be the icing on the cake of the whole year.”

Brisbane Roar earned praise from the mature youngster, who is enjoying every minute of Grand Final week and can-t wait to take the field.

“Brisbane have made all the headlines this year through their performances, and deservedly so. They-ll be the roaring hot favourites and there-s no doubt we will be the underdog. The Australian spirit doesn-t mind the underdog though, so hopefully we can go there and cause an upset,” said Ryan.

The goalkeeper was joined in the senior squad by Mustafa Amini when the young midfielder was handed a debut against the Brisbane Roar nine weeks into the campaign. Amini had already made headlines when he first linked with the club becoming the youngest ever signing at just 16 years of age. The playmaker had impressed many with his flair and maturity whilst plying his trade for the Australian Institute of Sport in the National Youth League.

Amini-s first taste of senior football came in a 7-1 pre-season meeting against Central Coast Lightning. He was chosen to play in the first round of the National Youth League before heading to China alongside Marc Warren, Trent Sainsbury and Nikola Stanjovic to compete for the Young Socceroos in the AFC U19 Championships.

Australia had an outstanding tournament in Zibo, qualifying for the FIFA 2011 U20 World Cup to be held in Columbia later this year. Amini scored an absolute stunner of a goal against the United Arab Emirates, and returned to the Mariners with great match fitness.

It was this that convinced Arnold that Amini was ready to play in the Hyundai A-League. Early season injury concerns to Patricio Perez meant that Arnold-s hand was forced early, but Amini quickly proved he was capable of playing at the highest level.

“It-s always great to be in a Grand Final, I was lucky to be in them when I was younger. This is the A-League, it-s the big league in Australia,” said Amini.

“If I got a start it would be a dream come true. Playing in a Grand Final at 17 in front of 50-thousand odd people would be amazing.”

Amini is full of praise for the man who gave him his chance during the early stage of this season.

“I love playing under Arnie. He-s had the confidence to play me when Perez hasn-t been there. I-ve shown him I can play so I-m very happy,” said Amini.

When asked if he could sum up what it means to be involved in a Hyundai A-League Grand Final, the teenager simply says.

“It-s an amazing feeling, I can-t wait.”

Clearly the young guns are enjoying the experience.

The Central Coast Mariners next match of the Hyundai A-League 2011 Finals Series will be the 2011 Grand Final against the Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium this Sunday, 13 March. Kick-off is at 4:00pm QST (5:00pm AEDT) and tickets are available online at www.ticketek.com.auor by phoning 132 849.