Fairytale finish for the Mariners?

Picture: Glenn Pokorny/Central Coast Mariners

It’s been a long time between A-League finals appearances for the Central Coast Mariners, yet with some significant wins against some equally significant teams this season, the Mariners are back in contention for the championship trophy. 

Once powerhouse club with numerous silverware in their earlier years, the Mariners have reached their first finals campaign since the 2013/14 season. The impressive new-look team is led by the experience and success of former Matilda’s Head Coach and Assistant Coach Alen Stajcic and Nahuel Arrarte, a partnership formed and flourished at the women’s national helm. 

The pair are no strangers to success, leading an Australian national football team to the highest world ranking of sixth in 2018. 

Asked what can be attributed to the team’s newfound success, Arrarte gave his insight, though was coy about heaping praise on the recent coaching success he and Stajcic have achieved.

“A lot of little things coming together. There are more leaders in the team including Oliver Bozanic, Matty Simon, Mark Birighitti.

“A core group of players from last season which continued into this season. Leadership, hard work, dedication of the coaching staff and club and changing the mindset of what is required at this level.”

Further prompting on how much national experience and success can be credited to the Mariners success this season, Arrarte cements his humble nature, giving most credit to the playing group.

“It’s funny we get asked that a lot, it’s about doing the hard yakka and staying humble. We are an under-resourced and understaffed club, what we have is very basic but we do the overs and above.

“It’s purely hard work. Staj [Stajcic] and I have a purpose and we love it. We don’t see our roles as pressure, we have responsibilities. We are doing what we love. We just do it and get on with it.  You try to guide the players, but ultimately the players are the ones who are out there and we ensure they are prepared as best as possible.

“The players are the ones playing. Staj is always thinking how we can be better.

“The players believe in us, what we are trying to achieve at the club. It’s taken us time, two years to achieve collective results. Several players are now playing for our national teams, Danny De Silva, Kai Rowles, Ruon Tongyik.” 

An impressive number of nationals by any team’s standards. 

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Without disregarding the number of years the Mariners have been absent from finals football, the question had to be asked if nerves would play a factor for the team leading up to the big dance. The Assistant Coach replied matter of factly.

“No, I don’t think so. We have players with finals experience. Marco Urena also played in a World Cup. They’ll guide the younger players around the park.”

When asked if there was one opponent the team would rather avoid, again Arrate answers with a frank response.

“No. It hasn’t been discussed. We’ve done well against the top teams this season. To be the best, you have to beat the best. We’ll do everything possible to win. We don’t fear anyone, nothing will change that perspective.”

Arrarte revealed that the top six and an ACL spot was a goal for the club pre-season.

“Our motto is to aim high in whatever we do. We knew the hard work that was ahead of us and the resilience we needed to show.

“The job isn’t done yet. A top-two spot was the goal. It was a definite target for our club. We finished third, there is no shame in that. We beat clubs this season who are also in a much healthier financial situation than ours.

“Anything can happen in finals football. We will do our best to deliver for the hardcore fans who have stuck around through the struggles.”

This prompted the question on if the team was nervous about talk of the club being sold or worse, folding.

“Don’t believe everything you hear. We did what was in our control, our priority was on the park.”

The Central Coast Mariners play the Macarthur Bulls this Saturday night for a place in the A-League preliminary final against Sydney FC on Saturday 19th June.

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