“I want to play the best players” Balard ready for Sydney ‘challenge’

Central Coast Mariners’ Max Balard spoke to the press on Thursday morning, saying he and the squad are ‘ready for the challenge’ against Sydney FC.

Balard is in fine form for the Mariners who have won two trophies from their last two matches, with Balard scoring in three of the last five matches of the Premiers push.

His new-found goalscoring touch helped him secure the Isuzu UTE A-League April Young Player of the Month, to go alongside his 2024 Mariners’ Medal.

Balard spoke about the ‘special’ results of late, proving himself against the best players and the Mariners’ knack that draws comparison to a great English team of the past…

Treble hunt: “We’ll be doing all we can”

“It’s very special for the club, the boys are happy with the results we’ve been getting and to bring home two trophies in the last week it’s been a very special moment for the club.” Balard said.

We set out a goal at the start of the season to win every trophy that we can. At the moment we’ve got two and we’ll be doing all we can to get three.

Max Balard on our treble targets

Balard said the squad have had muted celebrations for the first two trophies but are “ready for the third” and can “hopefully get to the grand final and celebrate after that.”

Sydney FC, AFC travel and Semi-Final experience

“We’re ready for the challenge, we’ve been doing it all season and for a group of boys who are relatively young it’s more of a benefit for us to play this many games. It replicates what most of the boys dream about, playing in Europe and playing that many games.” Balard said.

“Unfortunately we haven’t had results lately against [Sydney] but all the boys are in good nick and we’re ready for them on Friday night.”

“It’s not the same game plan as the last game, in the AFC Cup Final we played a team who sat off us a bit but Sydney tend to bring the pressure but that’s something we invite and hopefully we can turn it around on them and get the win.”

“I think in the games we played [against Sydney], we beat ourselves up and we lost the game. I believe we have every capability of winning on Friday night. We have quality in the squad and those two losses fuel us even more to win this game.

A rainy evening is expected at Allianz, but Balard relishes playing in the rain and hopes we can use it to our advantage, just like last Wednesday against Adelaide at home as we lifted the Premiers Plate under torrential downpour at Our Paradise.

I love playing in the rain, it’s special. It will add a bit of spice to the game and make the ball zip around, hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”

Balard also hopes the Mariners can draw on previous Semi-Final experience, and rubbished any idea that we could play for a draw in the first leg.

“We played [two-legged semi-final] last season against Adelaide and went over there and got the win. It’s no different here, we are playing for the win. Every game we play is to win, we don’t play for draws. Like for the Premiers Plate, we didn’t go to draw the game, we played to win.

“It will be the same going down there on Friday, we’ll be going for the win then coming home here and doing it again in front of our fans.


Underdog status and Sydney team news

Mariners are always the underdogs in many people’s eyes and Balard believes that hasn’t changed but we shouldn’t be put down.

“We were the underdogs last season and it might have changed a bit, but I think losing the first four games put us bag in the underdogs space. Nobody believed we’d be in this position at the end of the year and a lot of people have Sydney down as the winner of this tie but you shouldn’t put us down as the underdogs, we’ll be ready.”

Sydney will be without key player Joe Lolley, but Balard says this is not something to be celebrated and he would rather be facing a player he considers one of the best in the league.

“Joe Lolley has been unbelievable for them this season, he’s a great player for the league. Personally, I’d rather face him because I want to play the best players in the league to prove myself. It’s sad for them but they have plenty of players capable of doing very well.”

“[Luke] Brattan is no different, he’s a top player and a top pro. Hopefully he plays and we can beat them.” Balard said about his midfield opponent who is also a doubt for the Sky Blues.

Balard competing with Lolley in the previous meeting with Sydney.

Scoring goals, fitness and Paul Scholes

Balard took 74 games to score his first goal which came at a crucial time, a stoppage time winner against Melbourne City at Our Paradise and he has since scored two more. The knack of scoring late goals, not just himself but the team is down to fitness and Balard believes it’s a characteristic that makes great teams.

“It’s been coming lately, I’m really happy I can do my bit in attack and get some goals but it’s nothing I haven’t been trying for the past 70 or so games. It’s really special for me and my family, to be able to score in front of them at our stadium.” Balard said.

“I think [scoring late goals] also comes down to the amount of games we’ve played, we’ve been able to get that fitness and we’re always putting the pressure on teams towards the back end of games which is very important.”

“If you look at some great teams of the past like Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, they used to score a lot of late goals and they were a pretty good team! It’s testament to the team we have.”

Balard was asked if he was a player from that Man Utd side, which would be be, Nicky Butt or Paul Scholes? To which he laughed and replied:

“I’ll take either but hopefully Paul Scholes!”

You can watch Max’s press conference in full, here.