Dubbed the “little club that could”, the Central Coast Mariners have established a reputation for developing young talent and giving players an opportunity, often ignored by others.
- The Central Coast Mariners face their first grand final in a decade on Saturday
- They will take on premiers Melbourne City at Parramatta
- The Mariners are the smallest club and have the youngest team in the A-League
Lawrie McKinna was the team’s inaugural A-League coach, guiding the side to grand finals in 2006 and 2008.
He said the whole region should be proud of the team’s capacity to punch above its weight.
“They’ve got nothing to fear going into this final,” he said.
“It’s just great; ten years since a grand final but having five grand finals in 18 years for the Mariners is a huge achievement for the town and everyone involved.”
Mile Jedinak, Mathew Ryan, Tom Rogic and Garang Kuol are just a handful of the players that have established themselves on the world stage after getting an opportunity at the Mariners.
After triumphing in 2013, they then wallowed at the bottom of the ladder, claiming four wooden spoons, having a succession of coaches and being branded the worst professional football team in Australia.
There were calls for the club to be relocated to Canberra, Tasmania or Sydney and chief executive Shaun Mielekamp said the pressure for the club to fold was a constant distraction.
“That noise was all-consuming at times,” he said.
“The best part about Saturday is that puts a close to that chapter.
“I don’t think anybody will ever doubt the reason for the Central Coast Mariners in the A-League.”
The club tried a variety of methods to right the ship, including a trial with the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt.
“It put our brand on the global stage,” Mielekamp said.
However, it was the establishment of the academy program that set the club on its current course for success.
Ironically Mariners coach and former player Nick Montgomery was suspended and didn’t play in the Mariners 2013 grand final, but he is credited with much of the current success both at the academy and in the top flight.
He said the club has no choice but to give young players a chance.
“This club has to bring its own players through, that’s a fact,” Montgomery said.
“It doesn’t have the riches to go out and I don’t think I’d have it any other way.”
The Mariners boast the youngest team in the competition, giving more minutes to players under the age of 23 than any other.
The development of academy players such as Harry Steele and Jacob Farrell is a testament to the success of the program.
Mielekamp says the club is relishing its underdog status.
“It’s not lost on us at all that Melbourne City has got everything at their disposal,” he said.
“It’s a David and Goliath match.”