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26 May 2024 Posted by 


From the brink of extinction
to A-Leagues POWERHOUSE 
Special Grand Final Report by RAY GATT
AS football fairytales go, they don’t come much better than the Central Coast Mariners – surely one of the greatest feel-good stories of Australian sport.
Amid truly extraordinary scenes, The Little Club That Could, the club with the smallest budget in the competition, the club many thought would either fold or be relocated to another region just four seasons ago, claimed back-to-back Isuzu UTE A-League titles at Gosford’s Industree Group Stadium on Saturday night.
A brace of goals from Englishman Ryan Edmondson and another from rising star Miguel Dipizo helped the Yellow and Navy to a famous extra time 3-1 win over Melbourne Victory in front of a record crowd of 21,379. 
In the process, the Mariners created history, claiming an unprecedented treble by adding the championship to the Premiership trophy they won for finishing top of the table after the regular season and the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Cup. 
The final whistle sparked wonderful scenes as thousands of Mariners fans invaded the pitch to celebrate with the players. It took 10 minutes to restore some decorum so that the presentation could take place. But no-one cared!
That show of emotion and exuberance showed just how much the win meant to the region and its people.
The Mariners now stand among the greatest clubs in the history of the A-League.
As has been the case over the years, few pundits believed the Central Coast would figure as serious title contenders this season after the club was decimated before a ball had been kicked in anger.
The losses of championship winning coach Nick Montgomery and a raft of quality players including ace goalscorer Jason Cummings, Sam Silvera, Marco Tulio, James McGarry, Moresche, Beni Nkololo and Nectarios Triantis tore the heart out of the squad.
A new coach in Mark Jackson and an awful start to the season in which the Mariners lost their opening four games only served to heighten concerns the club was about to fall back to the dark times when defeats and wooden spoons were a painful norm.
But, there is something different, a new found mentality and strength about the club that best defines the spirit and determination of the Central Coast region. We saw it last season when they beat Melbourne City 6-1 to claim the title and we were lucky enough to witness it again in spades this season.
A resurgence that started with Alen Stajcic three seasons ago and was built on by Montgomery leading the club to the title last season, has now taken even greater strides forward under the coaching of the likeable Englishman Jackson and his hard-working staff.
Make no mistake, winning in Asia was a massive achievement. All up the Mariners travelled in excess of 100,000 kilometres, all in “cattle” class, and had to mix their Asian commitments with their A-League draw which often meant playing two games every three or four days.
It was a task the critics thought would take its toll and see the Mariners fall away in the latter parts of the A-League season.
It didn’t happen and now the club has joined Brisbane Roar (2011, 2012) and Sydney FC (2019, 2020) as the only clubs to win back-to-back titles since the A-League was formed in 2005.
Credit must go to the unheralded Jackson, whose appointment was greeted with about as much enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist for root canal therapy.
But Jackson and his staff, have gone about their job with belief and professionalism, turning around a disastrous start in such remarkable fashion that he was a shoe-in for the A-League Coach of the Year award.
In turn, he quickly won the trust of the players, including the immensely popular Josh Nisbet, rightly named the Johnny Warren Medallist as the player of the A-League season,, Max Balard, Brian Kaltak, Dan Hall, Jacob Farrell and evergreen captain Danny Vukovic among a united and determined squad.
Nothing epitomised the camaraderie and the fight of this group of players than in the 0-0 second leg semi-final draw against Sydney FC the previous weekend. 
Under pressure for the entire game, the Navy and Yellow somehow withstood the constant barrage from the opposition and held on to earn a place in the Grand Final.
And we saw it again against Victory in the season decider.
Down 1-0 with just minutes left, they somehow conjured an equaliser through man-of-the man Edmondson. There was only going to be one winner after that.
The Mariners were relentless in extra time with DiPizio’s goal giving them a 2-1 lead before Edmondson’s clinical finish sealed the deal close to full-time.
*Ray Gatt is a former Chief Football Writer for The Australian who now calls the Central Coast home.


Michael Walls
0407 783 413

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