Central Coast Mariners go under the radar again

Central Coast coach Phil Moss has played down the Mariners as title contenders insisting quality recruitment elsewhere has earned other clubs favouritism.

Two weeks out from the start of the 2014-15 season, the bookies have installed reigning premiers Brisbane Roar as slight favourites for the premiership ahead of Melbourne City, Victory and Sydney FC.

As per the norm at this time of the season, Central Coast are flying under the radar, despite their history of success.

The two-time premiers were champions in 2012-13 and finished third in 2013-14 despite the upheaval caused following Graham Arnold’s mid-season exit to Japan.

Moss spoke to FourFourTwo this week and did his best to ensure the club retained its non-favourite status.

“There’s a lot of big clubs in this league who have done some magnificent recruitment in the off-season,” Moss said.

“If you look at the likes of Melbourne City and Sydney FC, I know how Arnie (new Sydney FC boss Graham Arnold) operates and he’s recruited extremely well.

“There’s Melbourne Victory too and Kevin Muscat has done a great job with his recruitment.

“The Mariners are always there or thereabouts but it’s because we do it as a team. We’ve never had outstanding individuals, we’ve always had a fantastic team ethos.

“That will continue and we’ll see where that takes us, but certainly our first focus is top six.”

It is the Mariners famed culture which has made them perennial title contenders and will ensure nobody will be writing them off despite what the club says.

Central Coast’s major off-season changes are the departures of Mile Sterjovski (retired) and Bernie Ibini (Sydney), while they’ve brought in two unheralded foreigners in Senegalese striker Malick Mane and Hungarian midfielder Richard Vernes.

“If they (Mane and Vernes) can work within our structures then they can add real quality to what we’ve got,” Moss said.

“I’ve given them no guarantees they’ll play. They both know they have to work very hard to get a starting spot in the Mariners team.

“All our players know it’s about the team not the individual.”

While playing down the Mariners’ premiership chances, Moss said he was buoyed by their ability to negotiate a tough period last term, following Arnold’s exit to Vegalta Sendai in November.

Despite the period which saw Central Coast lose five straight matches (four in the league and one in the ACL), the Mariners only missed out on second spot on the A-League ladder to Western Sydney Wanderers on goal difference.

In this context, with more stability at the top, the Mariners are expected to improve and can push for the Premier’s Plate, although Moss isn't getting carried away.

“I took over at a very difficult time – there was a lot of upheaval at the club,” Moss said.

“It was the most unstable period in the club’s history. I’d like to think myself and the staff kept the ship sailing in the right direction.

“When you finish third on goal difference, you’re a game away from the Grand Final, a deflected free-kick away from the second round of the ACL, I’d like to think most people see that as a successful season given what we went through.

“They’re the times that open your eyes to what you’ve got around you.

“The way we came out of that and finished the season so strongly shows the fantastic culture we have in the playing group and our staff.

“That’ll continue to happen this year, where it takes us, nobody knows at this stage of the year. It’s all talk but we’re on track to give another great account for ourselves.”

Central Coast play their final pre-season match against Sydney Olympic on Tuesday night at Pluim Park ahead of their A-League opener versus rivals Newcastle Jets in Gosford on Saturday 11 October.