Arguably the most unpredictable club in A-Leagues history, the Central Coast Mariners have experienced more than their fair share of turbulence. A maiden championship triumph sandwiched in between three grand final losses in a row and three consecutive wooden spoons justifies.
Through the thick of it was former Central Coast Mariners affiliate Nick Montgomery, who was part of the pinnacle first championship and the dark times during its lowest point as a player.
Arriving from England in 2012 where he represented Sheffield United and Millwall, Gosford was Montgomery’s home for the next five years as he would be an integral piece, claiming the captain’s armband.
Appointed manager of the Mariners in 2021 after a stint as an assistant, the 42-year-old defied all odds to guide the club to a second A-Leagues championship, leading to an unfathomable opportunity to coach one of the biggest clubs in Scotland.
Before touching on his start to life with Hibernian, Montgomery spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about his rapid rise in the managerial landscape.
“I started coaching in the academy for Central Coast with the age groups of U12’s to U16’s until I received a second assistant role when Mike Mulvey arrived,” Montgomery told The Inner Sanctum.
“I quickly realised that working in that role wasn’t for me and I needed to be the main voice. From there I coached the academy kids and then moved into the National Premier League (NPL) space for the U20 and U23’s to be the technical director of the club.
“Behind the scenes I was working on gaining my UEFA Pro License ever since my playing days, so that position was one which I enjoyed because it was all about developing players to help get them to the first team and performing at the level required.
“That was a success for a couple of seasons which included winning the league with the U20 and U23’s which was essentially young kids competing against grown men in the NPL which is not easy.
“From there I received the opportunity to apply for the first team coaching position at the Mariners which was the next goal that I wanted to achieve and one I worked extremely hard for.
“Many of the young players I was working with in the academy integrated into the first team and we became the youngest squad in the competition.”
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From the moment he walked through the doors of the Mariners, there’s no doubt that the organisation remains attached closely to Montgomery’s heart having experienced it all.
The former midfielder detailed how his close relationship right from the beginning helped him settle into the club and allow for his ideas to reverberate.
“Helping the Mariners win their first-ever championship was certainly an incredible achievement that I was grateful to be part of,” he said.
“I met many great people associated with the club along the way who also helped me create a new game model to totally redevelop the academy and the structure. That success early on created the foundations for the championship we won last season, so there were a lot of early mornings and late nights to build up to the ultimate goal of silverware.
As briefly touched upon, the Mariners would go on to win their second domestic championship as they emphatically dismantled Melbourne City 6-1 in a flawless display.
Most didn’t give the Gosford-based side any real chance of making a deep run in the finals given their inexperience and the quality of teams remaining in the league.
Montgomery told reporters before the showcase decider “We know we can beat anybody, so we’ll go in full of confidence and go in to try and win the game against a very good Melbourne City team.”
How did Montgomery galvanise his playing group and instil the belief that his team truly belonged?
“As a manager it was all about putting a cohesive squad together and ensuring that they believed in competing against anybody,” he said.
“It’s no secret that we were the youngest team with the lowest budget ever to win the A-League.
“That proves that if you select the right players and work hard in developing them then anything is possible; a lot of those players never played a game of professional football such as Nectarios Triantis who made his debut recently in the Championship for Sunderland.
“Some of the players I have were disregarded by other clubs, but it’s a team game which means if you can find that comradery and work tirelessly every day on the training park to develop them, you don’t just win a championship by putting a team together.”
Montgomery’s replacement in the form of Mark Jackson has found it difficult to adjust in the early stages of the new campaign as they sit second from bottom on the table, accumulating one victory after five games.
Despite a less-than-ideal start to the Mariners’ title defence, Montgomery remains confident that his former side can turn the ship around.
“It’s still a very young and talented squad, but the season still has a long way to go,” he said.
“I’m sure that they’ll pick up both in terms of performances and results moving forward because there are still players there who won the championship only a few months ago.
“There are some young players who need time to gel within the squad and adapt. If you look around the rest of the competition, there are a lot more younger players which contributes to inconsistency at the start of the season.”
Playing a massive role in a stellar 2022/23 campaign that trumped all expectations, it was only natural that other clubs around the world were keeping a close eye on Montgomery.
After an underwhelming start to the new Scottish Premier League (SPL) season with three losses in the first four games and a humiliating exit from the UEFA Conference League playoffs to Aston Villa, Hibernian appointed Montgomery as their new manager to set the club in a different direction.
Montgomery explained how the process unfolded and what enticed him to tackle a new challenge abroad.
“I received a lot of interest from different clubs overseas and there were a couple of opportunities where it didn’t feel like the best step for me.
“When a club like Hibernian comes calling and reaches out, it was definitely something that I was interested in.
“It became clear after the first couple of conversations that it was a real opportunity for me to come to a massive club in the SPL. Once I spoke to the owner, the sporting director, and the CEO; everything felt right in terms of the vision we all shared about bringing success to the club.”
Attached to the SPL is a reputation consisting of being incredibly physical and very direct in terms of long-ball play.
Taking this into consideration for Montgomery’s coaching philosophy, do those factors require the need to adapt? Or is it about trusting his ideas and tactics?
“Coming in, I knew that the SPL is a very physically demanding league,” Montgomery confirmed.
“During my time playing in England and Australia, it helped me develop a structure on how the game should be played and that’s what I’ve tried to bring into the SPL.
“Like most leagues in Europe, Scotland is not only physical but it also has some very talented and athletic players in many clubs, so it’s been a great experience for me so far to implement my own style of football and challenge my abilities in a new culture.”
From an Australian perspective, Hibernian is home to three Socceroos players in the form of Martin Boyle, Lewis Miller, and James Jeggo.
Whilst Jeggo has not featured in Graham Anrold’s recent plans, Boyle and Miller are reaping the rewards at international level due to their impressive performances in the Scottish top flight, with the latter only recently breaking into the Australia squad at 23 years of age.
Working with those players on a daily basis, Montgomery commented on their respective games and how they have impressed him.
“We’re talking three really good Australian players at different stages of their career,” Montgomery explained.
“Lewis is a player that I had at the Mariners and moved over to Hibs while I was still in Australia. I’ve inherited Lewis and he’s someone with huge potential, very powerful, and suited to the SPL.
“Martin is a great attacking player who has become a real asset for the Socceroos and he thoroughly deserves it.
“Jimmy is a player who has been around different clubs in Europe and he’s a real honest, hard-working defensive midfielder.”
“To have three Australian boys in the squad is fantastic and they all bring their own strengths to the table.”
In the blink of an eye, Montgomery has moved from a club with less than 20 years of history to one of Scotland’s biggest clubs.
Since the Leeds-born manager took over at the helm in mid-September, the team from Edinburgh have lost two of their past 12 encounters in all competitions; something Montgomery is motivated to build on to bring success to Hibernian as he opened up on his future aspirations.
“My goal is to achieve success at Hibernian to help them grow and move in the same direction that the owner and the people associated with the club envision.
“Hopefully we can bring joy to the supporters who, like every club, are desperate for success and want to watch a team that is competitive on all fronts every single week.
“This is the reason why I took on the challenge because it’s a brilliant club and the fans are very passionate which really drew me to the club.
“In terms of my own ambitions, I don’t like to think too far ahead. All I think about is the next day and the next game coming up to put my best foot forward for Hibernian.
“Where that takes me? Who knows? But right now I’m really enjoying my time at the club and I’ll give everything I possibly have to achieve something special.”
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