Following a lengthy period in the bottom half of the A-League Men table, the Central Coast Mariners have made impressive leaps in recent seasons. Star defender Ruon Tongyik has enjoyed a meteoric rise alongside his teammates since joining the club in 2019.
Having been released from his fourth A-League outfit, the Brisbane Roar at the end of the 2018/19 season, Tongyik would be snapped up by the Mariners a month later, joining the club on a two-year deal. His first season would be uneventful, but in the 2019/20 season things began to turn around for the 25-year-old and the Mariners.
Previously the whipping boys of the competition, the Mariners were a legitimate threat in the 2020/21 A-League season. Tongyik was at the heart of the defence, where he’d make make 23 appearances and cement a starting position as an important contributor.
Noting on the side’s incredible rise from seemingly nowhere, Tongyik credits the club for getting back to the state it was in a decade ago when they were regular finalists and contending for silverware.
“The club have done very well to get it back to where it used to be, I think the players last year were exceptional,” Tongyik told The Inner Sanctum.
“The way we managed to stay on top of the table for a long period of time was quite impressive, but credit to fans for always sticking by us as well.”
Having made the finals after several disappointing seasons, coach Alen Stajcic departed the club at the end of the season. Additionally, key players Alou Kuol, Daniel De Silva and Jack Clisby would also leave the Mariners at the end of the 2020/21 season.
With assistant coach Nick Montgomery chosen to take the reins as the Mariners head coach, it seemed destined the club would take a backwards step in 2021/22. But yet they’ve remained competitive, and currently sit inside the top six, just five points off top spot with two games in hand.
Tongyik praised the way Montgomery has gotten the best out the playing squad and kept the momentum going after a successful campaign last year.
The framework he has set and carried on from Stajcic is already paying dividends.
“Monty [Montgomery] himself as a player was a hard worker, he gets a lot out of the players, he wants everyone to be honest with each other and that translates to the field,” Tongyik said.
“I think this preseason had been very tough, he demanded a lot of work ethic out of all of us, and I think that already shows on the pitch from our past few games.”
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Tongyik believes the current squad holds a good mixture of valuable experienced heads. Mark Birighitti, Matt Simon and Oliver Bozanic are the regular old firm, while youngsters Dan Hall, Harrison Steele and Lewis Miller amongst others have broken into the first team.
The defender has watched the progress of the steadily emerging players in the side, saying they’re beginning to prove their worth.
“I think it’s such a good balance, we have a lot of good young players in the team, and this year they’re getting their chances to play,” Tongyik said.
“They’ve proven not only to the older players, but to coaches they’re ready to step up to the next level.”
The sky is the limit for the Mariners this season, with Tongyik saying the club want to finish the season as the ladder leaders, while also wanting to take out the FFA Cup.
“As a group, we already talked about it in preseason how good we did last year and we want to come first, on top of the table this year,” he said.
“We’ve got the Cup game as well, we also want to win that, so we’ve got a lot of goals this season… we definitely want to be better than we were last year, we want to improve on that.”
A tumultous career
Tongyik has had to jump over many hurdles throughout his career so far, having been released by his first club Adelaide United at the end of the 2015/16 season without making an appearance.
The following season, he’d sign for Melbourne City, breaking into the first team, though wouldn’t feature the season after and was released at the end of the 2017/18 season.
His next destination would be the Western Sydney Wanderers. Signed for the 2018/19 season, he’d make two appearances for the club before being released before the end of the season.
He’d finish the remainder of the season with the Brisbane Roar, facing a similar fate and being released once again at the end of the season. Having joined the Mariners and finding success, Tongyik would go from being a squad player who barely featured, to a regular starter.
Tongyik says that though his journey has never been easy, it was important to keep striving and never give in.
“It hasn’t been easy, and I think it shows for all players that don’t get a chance at clubs that they’ve been [at], all it takes is one chance for players to prove themselves,” he said.
“It’s not easy [dealing with being released], but at the end of the day it’s part of our job like it is any other job. It’s not easy, but a player should never give up.”
He’s found his current club one that’s giving similar players those opportunities, finally getting their chance to play senior professional football with the Mariners.
Tongyik believes that chances to play football at the top level are always out there, and that it’s important to take those chances when they come.
“It’s one of those situations, as a player there’s always going to be ups and downs, and it’s just about working hard and being honest about yourself, and believing in yourself is a massive thing,” he said.
“I think a lot of players that go through something like that [should know] it’s not the end of the world, there’s [always] other opportunities [to play] elsewhere, but you’ve got to grab the opportunity as well.”
Having struggled with injury, the defender wants to get his body right and get himself back into contention for Socceroos selection, keen to get back into the international set up.
“I want to get myself fit again and injury free, I want to be able to play with the squad, and also my main goal is I want to be selected again in the Socceroos squad hopefully soon,” he said.
“I really enjoyed myself [in the Socceroos camp], I loved being out there. It was something that was unexpected, to be called up to the Socceroos, but it’s something that drives me to improve as a player. I want to be back in the squad one day.”
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