Tony Walmsley is tipping Melbourne Victory to go on and win the grand final after watching them beat his Central Coast Mariners team to lift the Premiers' Plate on Sunday.
Goals from Daniel Georgievski, Archie Thompson and Besart Berisha sealed a 3-1 home win and guaranteed Kevin Muscat's team top spot in the regular season standings, the cue for celebrations and a trophy presentation at AAMI Park.
Victory will have next weekend off before hosting a semi-final in Melbourne, with Walmsley backing them to go all the way and claim the championship for the first time since 2008-09.
"It's finals football," he said.
"It could go anywhere. I think Melbourne Victory have really given themselves a great opportunity at winning the league with the additional momentum they might have. Sydney FC are strong, Wellington are strong on their day. Adelaide can turn it on, when they turn it on they're very good going forward.
"I'd say Melbourne Victory, but I'm not a punter, so very hard to say.
"The challenge for the coach with the week off is how do you maintain the right level of intensity, so that they don't start the next game lacking a bit of legs or losing any sort of momentum?"
The defeat on Sunday was the final match for retiring Mariners’ stalwart John Hutchinson, who will join the backroom staff under Walmsley next season.
"It's time to replace him," the head coach said.
"He's acknowledged that. And he's looking forward to his next chapter. What he can add now, alongside me, working with some of these guys and mentoring them – nothing will be lost. He's in his mid-30s. Sometimes it's time to recognise when your time's up. He's done that, he's had a great send-off at home and I'm looking forward to working with him."
Walmsley also made the frank admission that the Mariners, despite finishing 11 points outside the playoffs, have little flexibility to strength due to their high wage bill.
"We have some challenges," he said.
"We have a lot of contracted players, very little available spots in terms of the salary cap and what we're able to spend. It's not a challenge that's insurmountable. I think there's growth in the squad that we've got. The playing style we've adopted is very embryonic, it's glitchy. There's lots room for improvement.
"We need to be astute. We've got a little bit of money to spend and we've got the Everton partnership to tap into," he added, referring to a relationship the Mariners have established the Premier League club.
"Between the two of those I think we can put together a competitive squad and one that can start to deliver more consistently than we have this season."comments