A-League 2018/19 report card: Central Coast Mariners

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From Usain Bolt to ten goal thrillers; this A-League season had it all for the Central Coast Mariners.

Mariners fans – you may want to look away now.

This season

A-League: Regular Season10th (3 wins, 4 draws, 20 losses)

Finals – n/a

FFA Cup: Round of 32 exit (3-0 loss to Adelaide United)

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Top Scorer: Matt Simon – 7 goals

Season Summary

The Central Coast Mariners had one of the most interrupted and publicised pre-seasons the A-League has ever seen. The trial of former Olympian and wannabe professional footballer Usain Bolt saw over 10,000 people flock to Central Coast Stadium to see Usain Bolt play against a make-up ‘all-star’ squad of local players (not even NPL opposition, like, properly local players from local clubs). For context, the Mariners played this pre-season game last year in front of about 2,000 fans at Pluim Park, the home ground of the Mariners’ NPL2 team. Eyes were very much on the Mariners, or more specifically, Usain Bolt, as he endeavoured to earn himself a professional contract.

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Although the commercial opportunities were great for the Central Coast, the ever-present six-foot-four-inches Jamaican trialist grabbed all the headlines, and in hindsight, harmed the club’s chances of reaching a top six finish. I’m not saying he’s the reason the Mariners hit rock-bottom this year – that will come later – but he certainly didn’t help Mike Mulvey prepare his team for the upcoming season.

With Bolt gone, it was back to business for the Central Coast – losing games. The amount of times the Mariners held a lead, only to throw it away and lose the game was remarkable. Fitness seemed to be an issue for the squad throughout the campaign, as they were overrun in the latter stages of games.

Defence was another point of concern for the Mariners, conceding the second-most goals in the league and the equal-worst in their history (70). Visa signing Kalifa Cissé failed to impress, and as such retired halfway through the season. Likewise, marquee signing Ross McCormack managed just five games for the Yellow and Navy before prematurely ending his loan spell with the club.

The club hit rock-bottom in March when they suffered a humiliating 8-2 defeat at home against the Wellington Phoenix. The result saw Mike Mulvey sacked immediately after the match, and former Matildas boss Alen Stajcic was appointed the caretaker role, before signing a three-year contract extension with the club following some impressive performances in his six games in charge.

Under ‘Staj’, the Mariners appear to possess a lot more structure and defensive know-how, as the rebuild for next season continues.

Areas in need of improvement

Just about everything.

Player recruitment will be key for the Central Coast next season. The bulk of the players signed this season failed to make a big impact for the club, and ultimately saw a pre-season of finals hopefuls turn into wooden spooners-elect by January.

Defence is another key area for the Mariners to improve, and under Stajcic it appears they won’t concede 70 goals next season. Staj has implemented a more structured style of play which allows them to be competitive with the larger teams.

Top student

There is a fair shout for Mariners’ Medal winner Aiden O’Neill to be the top student, but Matt Millar was a stand-out.

Signing with the Central Coast at the start of the season from the Victorian NPL, Millar was a bright spark in a very dull Mariners squad.

In fact, he was playing so well, many commentators claimed he was ‘putting himself in the shop window’, and that’s exactly what he did, signing on with the Newcastle Jets next season.

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Class clown

This is by far the hardest part, because there are so many contenders. In my mid-season report card Kalifa Cissé and Ross McCormack were both mentioned, so I won’t be handing the class clown honours to them this time. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, your 2018/19 Central Coast Mariners class clown *drumrolls* – Michael McGlinchey.

The 32-year-old Kiwi has failed to impress in his second stint with the club (after suing them following his first stint). At the start of the season, he was in the starting XI for Mike Mulvey, before having to settle for bench rotation, and eventually left out all-together.

McGlinchey penned a two-year deal, so he will remain in Yellow and Navy next season. For the Mariners’ sake, I hope he can find his 2013 form.

Outlook

They say it’s darkest just before the dawn, and it appears the sun is slowly rising over the Central Coast. A new manager at the helm who already has the affection and respect from his players will surely go a long way to restoring a winning culture in Gosford, which left the same year championship-winning coach Graham Arnold left.

Smart recruitment will be key for the Mariners as they will never boast the most expensive team in the league, but they can, however, boast the fittest and hardest working – and that’s the recipe to success for the Mariners next season.

The club have promising youngsters Kye Rowles and Jordan Murray signing extended deals, playing alongside experienced heads in Jack Clisby, Tommy Oar and Matt Simon. Getting the balance of youth and experience will also play a large part in yet another rebuild for the Central Coast.

Grade: F

Feature Image Credit: Central Coast Mariners

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Cameron Smith
Football writer and radio presenter. Loves everything football (well, except Italian's diving since '06).