The Central Coast Mariners go into A-League Season 12 as the hot favourites to pick up another wooden spoon. The 2015/2016 campaign for the Gosford club was easily forgettable for players, staff and fans alike as they endured the worst ever season by an A-League club finishing with a horrible 12 points in 27 games. This season they will be hoping to do a lot better than last. It won’t be hard to do that.
The sacking of Tony Walmsley came far too late for the club with the former manager departing the club after a humiliating loss to Victorian NPL side Green Gully early on in the FFA Cup. It is of my opinion, that Walmsley, although a very good youth coach and certainly a good bloke was not up to standard as a senior coach and he departs after many years of good service, especially as a youth coach. I personally wish him well and that his sacking surely wasn’t personal and was all about business.
The Mariners hierarchy of Mike Charlesworth, Peter Storrie and CEO Shaun Mielekamp all got together to scour Europe and Australia for a new manager and the man chosen to do the job for the club was Paul Okon.
Paul was of course a successful player in his day and was coach of the Young Socceroos. The club l think here has made the right choice as Okon is someone who has experience with young players and the Mariners have a youthful roster. The preference for a local coach rather than an overseas coach was also a smart movers he will be able to understand quickly what this club’s ethos is whereas, an overseas coach may have struggled..
Okon now has a big job ahead of him to make the wooden spoon holders a genuine chance to finish in a finals position.
Last season was an all time low for the Coast as they picked up their first wooden spoon and had very little highlights. For me, the most exciting player for the club last season was Mitch Austin. His contribution early in the season was promising but he dropped off and was allowed to leave the club to join the Melbourne Victory for this season. Another invaluable player for the Mariners is Fabio Ferreira who also showed glimpses of his talent early in the season but once the season panned out the way it did, the Portuguese winger seemed disinterested. The Mariners will need Fabio to be back at his best if they are to hopefully challenge for a finals position.
The mantra of last season for the Gosford club was to play entertaining football and give young kids a chance to play in the A-League. The entertaining football mantra certainly worked…but it was for the opposition as the Mariners conceded 60+ goals and defensively were all over the shop for large portions of the season. While in an attacking sense however, the Mariners did not rank last in goals scored. A small positive l guess.
The young kids given a go by departed manager Walmsley included Liam Rose, Harry Ascroft, Josh Bingham Micky Neill and Trent Buhagiar. These players gained valuable A-League experience and will be better equipped to handle the rigours of A-League football this time around. Buhagiar especially has impressed many Mariners fans and he certainly has miles of potential to succeed in the future.
The players that have come in this season for the Mariners are an interesting bunch. Three former Sydney FC players come into the fold with Mickael Tavares a valuable addition of experience to the midfield. He and Nick Montgomery have the potential to form a solid defensive midfield combination despite both being north of 30. Jacques Faty also comes in to add experience to the backline and although his last season at the Sky Blues was forgettable, his run in the side with Sydney to the Grand Final in 2014 is what Mariners fans will hope he can bring to the side. Ivan Necevski will slot into the goalkeeping position after being no.2 at Sydney for many years.
He will bring experience also to Paul Izzo who showed glimpses of quality saves but was very prone to an error that lead to the concession of a goal. A criticism of the Mariners now Walmsley has departed is that all visa spots are taken up and Okon has not been allowed to make any foreign signings of his own. While some Australian spots are still available for the club, Okon will most likely look for further acquisitions in defence. The former Wellington duo Blake Powell and Kwabena Appiah-Kubi are good additions of depth to the side with Powell impressing at Wellington. Appiah had limited chances at both the Wanderers and Phoenix and he comes back to the club he was at as a youth player.
In my opinion, the most exciting addition to the squad is Connor Pain. Pain has been a part of the Melbourne Victory set up for some years but he never was quite able to crack the strong attacking force Victory possess. His experiences were mostly on the bench and was limited to substitution appearances but now he has his opportunity with Central Coast as he will be a starter most games and he will be able to show his quality with his new side.
The outs of the Mariners are headlined by Josh Rose’s move to Melbourne City and John Hutchinson. Hutch has been with the club from the very beginning and he leaves the Coast after 12 years as the record games holder for them. Hutch was a massive part of what the Mariners were about and it won’t be the same without him. Back onto the player side, Mitch Austin went to the other side of Melbourne in that swap deal that saw Connor Pain come the other way and other releases included Francesco Stella and Tomislav Uskok. Rose is a big out for the Mariners as he spent 6 years at the club and was a valuable member of the Championship winning side of 2013. Stella and Uskok had limited opportunities but Uskok in particular showed his quality before being released. He had a successful season for Sydney United. A signing that for me was critically under-utilised was Alastair Bray. Bray was mostly on the bench last season but he had a ripper of a game against Adelaide the travelling fans including myself were very happy about. Unfortunately, Walmsley stuck with Izzo at first choice much to the chagrin of many fans.
The Gosford club are in for another long season and this loyal and dedicated fan can only see them struggling to avoid the wooden spoon. While the Mariners look in a much better spot this time around compared to last season, it looks like it will be another campaign the Gosford club will come to forget. For me, the best the club can hope for is an unlikely finals berth but l see the club finishing in the bottom 3 positions. Of course l would love to be proved wrong, that’s just how l see it happening. The future of the Mariners looks bright and they will be a strong team in the coming years, this coming season however, looks like another transitional period for a club making plenty of great strides off-field. I can’t wait to see what we can do on-field.
I also can’t wait to see what the other 9 teams do. Bring on the season.
But to end this piece, l will say:
Good luck Coast, my lads. We will need it.
Josh appears on the Coast Football Ramble podcast, make sure you follow it @CFootballRamble
soundcloud.com/user-36140903/coast-football-ramble-podcast-episode-4 … Episode 4,
@SMielekamp joins us for a long chat about all sorts.