The Central Coast Mariners have an opportunity to exorcise last season’s A-League demons with a win in the FFA Cup Round of 32 clash against the Wellington Phoenix tonight.
The Mariners are on a mission to dismiss the poor spirit that circulated around Gosford last season.
Club legend John Hutchinson - a huge influence on the field for 10 seasons – starts his post-football career as part of the coaching staff. The $10m Centre of Excellence at Tuggerah is taking shape, the launch of a new playing strip has been a cause célèbre and new recruits are arriving on and off the field.
For the A-League perennial overachievers hopes are high of living up to that tag once again.
Looking towards tomorrow night’s Cup clash, head coach Tony Walmsley, believes the tie will be a barometer of where the club’s preparations are at.
“We’d love to go on a run in the FFA Cup, it’s a cup game, so you never know what’s going to happen,” Walmsley said.
“It’s an early challenge for us, just purely based on the fact that we’ll be 10 weeks into pre-season.
“We’ll be ready to give it a real crack and the team will be picked based on the loads that have gone into them in pre-season and their physical condition.
“We know a lot about Wellington. They are travelling to Gosford, they are going to play a night game at Central Coast stadium – it’s not an easy task for them.
“We are hopeful we can put in a good shift.”
For the upcoming season Walmsley is hoping to bring some joy back to the Mariners faithful by electrifying Central Coast Stadium once again
“The intent is to turn things around, we are very confident that we will entertain people,” he said.
“We’ve set our stall out to do that, on the back of that obviously we are going to play to win. But we want to do it in a way that excites the home fans. And also really take on teams away from home.”
“We’ve added some quality: goalkeeper Paul Izzo, Roy ODonovan, Mitch Austin and Harry Ascroft. We are already better than we were.
“We’re adapting a new playing style, which will give us more energy for longer, for sustained periods, in A-League games.
“The positive results and the way the team played at the back end of last season is a baseline for us. We asked questions of the players last year that physically they weren’t able to answer.
“But that’s purely preparation so the whole pre-season is geared towards maximising that side of it, so they are capable of delivering a much more proactive and forceful playing style.
Walmsley who won the A-League National Youth League in the 2011–12 season has full confidence that his side will be in the top six, and is looking to his young charges to take them there.
“In terms of goals, I’m sitting here now and we are a finals team. It won’t sit comfortably with me if we don’t achieve that,” he said.
“When you look at Anthony Kalec, Liam Rose, Nick Fitzgerald and Anthony Caceras, they are all players that can turn a game.
Anthony Caceras had a breakthrough season last year and he’ll take it to another level. Nick Fitzgerald played every game last year, and he’ll take it to another level. The end product for Fitzy is what we are going to be working with him on, it’s there it’s just about to breakthrough.
“Mitch Austin gives us power and pace down the left. There’s a great energy and youthfulness behind the squad. With players like Jacob Poscaliero who has a pre-season now, Jake McGing and new signing Josh Bingham.
“If we can get these guys through pre-season with no major breakdowns, we have got a great balance and a lot of energy and power that we perhaps weren’t able to tap into at the back end of last season.”
Walmsley will be looking to Mariners club legend John Hutchinson to instil the passion and the purpose he showed on the field into his new role as assistance coach. But the biggest problem for his new number two will be calming down the enthusiasm so he doesn’t run out of fuel too early.
“John Hutchinson has made a very quick transition from being a player to a coach, in that he’s shown the ability to do draw the line and be able to go, ‘I’m no longer a player I’m now a coach,’ and he has had no fear in putting himself out there,” the 49-year-old said.
“The only challenge I have with Hutch is not allowing him to burn out, he’s got so much energy. He doesn’t sleep, he’s at training at 7am in the morning setting things up and planning, like he always did when he was a player. Doing more than he needs to.
“So it’s about reining him and capturing that energy and putting it in the right direction.”
PICS by Kevin Airs