As a coach, its never easy coming into an established environment and replacing someone who has achieved success the previous season. It’s called being on a hiding to nothing.
When Alen Stajcic decided to move on at the end of last season after guiding the Central Coast to their first finals appearance since 2014, the unenviable task of following in his footsteps fell to Mariners legend Nick Montgomery.
Given the club’s lean and embarrassing period before last season’s revival, there were no doubt some sceptics who doubted Monty’s ability to continue the great work, suggesting the Mariners would likely fall back into their old, losing ways.
But, if anyone was built to make a mockery of those claims, it is Montgomery.
Afterall, you don’t get to play for 18 years and over 500 games in the tough world of professional English football without learning a trick or two, honing your competitive edge or developing a hard nosed attitude that allows you to treat criticism like water off a duck’s back.
And that’s what you are seeing now as Monty, just a little over six months into his tenure as head man at the Yellow and Navy, is making people sit up and take notice with his cool, calm and methodical ways.
It’s there for all to see so far. Having played just five games, the Mariners are in fifth spot on the A-League table with nine points (just five behind leaders Melbourne Victory who have played an extra two games).
Importantly, they are also into the final of the FFA Cup for the first time following the club’s impressive 1-0 win over Sydney FC on Tuesday night. It’s the first time the Mariners have been in a final since they won the A-League title in 2013.
Despite that, the Mariners are still flying under the radar and it’s the way Montgomery likes it because the Englishman is not about fanfare or pats on the back. He is about getting the job done on the field to the best of his ability. He’ll leave the adulation to others.
Watch Monty on the sidelines during a match and at training and he is a picture of calmness and thoroughness. Nothing seems to faze him.
He has an unshakeable belief, not just in his own processes and the way he goes about his business, but also in what he has put in place over the past few years in the various coaching roles he has had at the club.
Youth development has been a key component for him. So far this season, Montgomery has 13 graduates from the Mariners Academy, a stat surely unmatched by any other club in the League.
It’s no fluke that the Mariners have a core of young players who are making waves in the A-League and FFA Cup because Montgomery has been instrumental, not only in helping identify the talent but nurturing and cajoling it and ultimately throwing his faith in them by giving them their chance on the field.
The young players will run through a brick wall for the likeable Montgomery while the older players are providing the perfect support for him with their experience and nous.
Sure, there is still a long way to go and football has a habit of kicking you in the guts when you least expect it, but, the club appears in very safe hands.
As they say in the classics, “in Monty we trust!”