While it may not be the biggest Australian sporting rivalry or one of the biggest in the world, the F3 Derby is something near and dear to the hearts of Newcastle Jets and Central Coast Mariners fans. It is the longest standing derby in the A-League Men with a surprisingly deep history.
It was November 2004 when the then-named Football Federation Australia announced the forming of the new A-League competition after the demise of the National Soccer League. At that moment, Australian football’s longest-standing derby was born.
With the Jets and Mariners the only two clubs included in the new league from regional areas, the F3 Derby was the only local rivalry for the first few seasons of the A-League competition. It would be a derby that trailblazed the path for other Australian football derbies to follow.
But first, we have to backtrack to 1981 when Newcastle KB United was playing in the National Soccer League, the forerunner of top-flight football in Australia.
KB took on a combined Central Coast team at Grahame Park, now known as Central Coast Stadium. In the history books, the 2005 OFC Club Championship was where the first two sides first ‘competitively’ met. But the 1981 clash is one of the earliest ‘F3 Derbies’ between teams from Central Coast and Newcastle.
It was a resounding and comfortable 4-0 win for the away side KB. Now, fast forward to the 2005 OFC Club Championship, where the blood really began to boil between these two historic clubs.
It had only been 14 long months since the launch of the new competition, and with the A-League not yet underway for its inaugural season, this match marked the start of a new dawn in Australian football. After 90 minutes of heated and heavily contested football in the 103rd minute, the first blow in a 17-year rivalry was landed.
Nik Mrdja, an attacker at the time for Central Coast, slid in late on Jets defender Andrew Durante and this is where things first got out of hand in the derby.
The tackle that landed on Durante hospitalised the defender with a second broken leg in 20 months, while on the pitch, Mrdja’s tackle had sparked a confrontation between the two teams.
The rivals first met in the finals in the inaugural A-League season, with Newcastle placing behind Central Coast by just a single point. It was a 1-0 win for the yellow and navy on away turf in the first semi-final in front of 10,236 people. They followed up the year after with a 1-1 draw, back in the Central Coast, with a record F3 Derby attendance at the time of 17,429.
However, there is one season etched in A-League Men folklore that will never ever be forgotten by the supporters of the Mariners and the Jets. The 2007/08 season was one that went right down to the wire.
It was a historic season for both clubs. Central Coast claimed its first-ever minor premiership on the final day on goal difference by only one goal, and there were five F3 derbies played out. This included three in the finals series, with each being a thriller.
The two clubs were pitted against each other in the A-League major semi-final, and it was the Jets who took a 2-0 lead courtesy of the Griffiths brothers, Joel and Adam.
This was after Joel had already claimed the A-League Golden Boot with 14 goals in 21 games for Newcastle that season. In a twist of fate, it was one of the greatest F3 Derby comebacks at Central Coast Stadium.
The Mariners were able to turn the tide around, led by a double from Sasho Petrovski and a sealer in extra time to qualify for the Grand Final. But it was not all doom and gloom for the Jets, as they too would once again meet their local foes in the 07/08 curtain-closer.
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On February 24 2008, the biggest clash between the geographically local clubs was played out in front of 36,354 fans, which is the highest attended match between the two clubs. It was held on the neutral turf of Sydney Football Stadium due to Central Coast Stadium not having the correct criteria to host the Grand Final.
It was a bloody and hard-fought first half, with neither side breaking the deadlock. It took a calculated risk from then Jets coach Gary Van Egmond to break the deadlock.
The 63rd minute saw Central Coast defender Tony Vidmar slip, allowing Jets attacker Mark Bridge to steam in behind. His shot soared straight past Danny Vukovic to give the Jets a 1-0 lead in Sydney.
However, that match did not finish without controversy though. The Mariners earned a corner deep into extra-time, and as the cross flew, the ball appeared to hit the hand of James Holland.
The protests of the Mariners players fell on deaf ears, and a slap on referee Mark Shield’s arm saw Vukovic awarded a straight red card, while two further Mariners were cautioned. It was the Jets who prevailed in the end, claiming their first-ever major premiership in Sydney in style.
The year after the grand final saw the quick downfall of both the Jets and Mariners, with the pendulum constantly swinging between who had bragging rights each season. Neither side has faced each other in the finals series since that legendary 2007/08 season.
The Mariners finally got their retribution though, when in the 2012/13 season they claimed a first grand final win, defeating the Western Sydney Wanderers at Allianz Stadium 2-0.
Between December of 2012 to November of 2015, it was the Mariners who held the ultimate bragging rights for nine games straight, a record that still stands today for the longest undefeated run against one side.
The Jets though, shortly after breaking the nine-game duck, started their dominance in the derby. An opening 5-1 demolition in the 2017/18 season after a first-half hat-trick from former Central Coast striker Roy O’Donovan was followed up by a 2-0 win at home in Newcastle.
It sent the Mariners back down to the bottom of the A-League ladder. However, the most humiliating performance in F3 derby history was yet to be played out.Embed from Getty Images
After storming to second place one the table, the Jets booked their place in the 2017/18 finals series, exactly 10 seasons after defeating the Mariners in the grand final. They had the opportunity to become the first side to win all three regular-season derbies in the Mariners’ backyard at Central Coast Stadium.
The away side had come into the match with poor form despite sitting second, after three back-to-back losses against Adelaide United, Melbourne City and Perth Glory.
Many were tipping Newcastle to fumble in the finals if it couldn’t regain form against last-placed Central Coast. The Jets blew away all their critics in the highest-scoring F3 Derby and A-League game in history.
It was Joey Champness who got proceedings underway in the 10th minute, followed by O’Donovan and Riley McGree who added the second and third.
The Mariners did grab one back through Connor Pain, but the Jets added a fourth through McGree once again, who danced his way past the Central Coast defence. Defender Lachlan Jackson added the fifth quickly in the second half as he ghosted in behind to head one into the back of the net in the 53rd minute.
O’Donovan made it six from the penalty spot after being fouled by Jake McGing, and it was McGree who completed his hat-trick for Newcastle in the 80th minute. He added the seventh of the game with a deflected shot off Wout Brama.
Pato Rodriguez and Dimitri Petratos combined for the final eighth goal, one minute after the seventh. Rodriguez cut it back to Petratos, who only had to tap the ball home for the aggregate record of most goals scored in an A-League match.
Once again though, the ball has fallen back into the Mariners court, as they have won four of the last eight clashes between the two sides. This included a comeback 3-2 win at McDonald Jones Stadium in March 2019.
They will look to make it two from two this season as they face off against Newcastle Jets at Central Coast Stadium once again on Saturday, January 15 at 5:05pm.
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