'The kids are all right...'

Former Central Coast National Youth League coach Tony Walmsley believes the likes of Anthony Caceres, Michael Neill and Hayden Morton can help fill the gap as the club overhauls its squad.

The Mariners have lost a host of their grand-final winning XI to overseas clubs including Mat Ryan, Oliver Bozanic and more recently Michael McGlinchey, Daniel McBreen and Trent Sainsbury, along with head coach Graham Arnold. The season before promising youngsters Musti Amini and Tom Rogic also departed for Europe.

Walsmley spent three seasons coaching the Mariners NYL side from 2009 to 2012, winning two Premierships and finishing second once, as well as assisting Graham Arnold with the first-team. He played a key role in establishing the club’s academy and developing players such as Sainsbury, Amini, Bernie Ibini-Isei, Mitchell Duke and Nick Fitzgerald, before joining Sheffield United in the UK.

Walmsey described the Mariners as being in an “interesting place”.

“Phil Moss inherited a successful squad and a proven methodology and his transition has been smooth so far,” he said.

“Mossy's biggest challenge is to rebuild and it's a key time now to pull together a plan to capture the next generation of Mariners.”

Caceres, 21, has been a regular starter following the exit of McGlinchey and the injury to Marcos Flores, and scored a wonder goal in the recent F3 derby, while 19-year olds Michael Neill and Hayden Morton provide cover along the backline.

Caceres is a Marconi junior who has made nine appearances in the A-League this season and both Neill and Morton come from the Sutherland Sharks.

“Short-term Caceres is starting to believe in himself now,” Walmsley said. “A very good player. Neill has had injuries, but given time he shows real potential. Talent plus opportunity equals success. Players evolve at different rates and we are too quick to dismiss potential. 

“Hayden was a good prospect when we signed him three seasons ago. He was playing as a central defender for Sutherland at 17. He’s still young enough to be given the right opportunities.”

The value of the NYL has been debated in some quarters but Walmsley remains a supporter. 

“At a club like the Central Coast Mariners, with its financial constraints, the NYL is critical,” he said.  “The success we had was delivered in an environment where most people preferred the NYL didn't exist.

"I don't buy the ‘too expensive’ tag for NYL. Recruitment at all levels needs to be measured and we achieved a return on the investment however you look at it. 

“I haven't seen the current Mariners NYL squad play, but I do get regular reports and of course keep a keen interest. It's not easy to balance winning and development, but they work hand in hand. The key is in squad structure and a winning mentality.

"It's about providing A-League players with game time and challenging others to reach their potential."

He added: “The Central Coast Mariners Academy and International Football School will be factors in giving younger players a platform to develop, but the technical gap between the current state and what the club requires shouldn't be underestimated.

"The development partnerships across Northern Sydney need to be re-energised. It's a Central Coast club, but needs a much broader recruitment footprint to prosper.”

Walmsley is a fan of the signing of Kim Seung-Yong but says more can be done and that the Mariners’ underdog title is long gone.

“It's great to see Central Coast sign a Korean player this week, but there are many other markets that the club could benefit from and that haven't been explored,” he said. 

“Central Coast have an opportunity to continue to source and develop the best young talent, but also to expand their capability in recruitment globally. 

“I'd like to see the Mariners adopt a more attacking philosophy and recruit accordingly. With no relegation, there's no reason not to have entertaining football as a priority. It's a small market so to maximize crowds the football has to be entertaining. 

“The underdog tag has been dispelled now. The salary cap provides an even basis for success. Those that recruit the smartest will prosper.”