Born-again Jets

Newcastle Jets coach Branko Culina says it’s a pleasure to go to work every morning and given the smile on his face and the Jets’ form over the past month it’s easy to see why.

Newcastle Jets coach Branko Culina says it’s a pleasure to go to work every morning and given the smile on his face and the Jets’ form over the past month it’s easy to see why.

Less than three months ago, the future of the Jets was under a massive cloud. The club had major cash flow problems, players and staff weren’t getting paid while on the field the Jets won just one of their first 11 matches of the season.

The story was that there was no magic bullet for the revival of the proud club. Culina was both an experienced manager and great salesman for the club, but the off-field worries made it difficult for him to do either job with much enthusiasm.

On September 22, Nathan Tinkler, mining magnate, leviathan horse owner and proud Novocastrian took control and immediately set about changing not only the balance sheet but the atmosphere of the club.

A couple of weeks later, Tinkler announced not only that he would commit for 10 years, a massive boost for the future of Hyundai A-League football in the region, but that Culina would be signed for an additional five years.

The change in the mindset was instantaneous but that took time to be reflected in the on-field results.

“It-s been a difficult year for our club,” Culina said. “I thought we began our season well enough without getting wins on board. But certainly once the new owner came in and put the right people in place, things started being far more positive.”

“There’s a lot of things we didn’t have and one of them was confidence as well. To do your job well in normal working conditions. But that’s changed, we’ve got that and probably more.”

“We’ve started to be competitive with other teams as far as resources were concerned which we hadn’t been in the past. It’s now a pleasure to go to work every day.”

Culina’s team have now gone six games unbeaten, moving up to fifth on the table and on track for a finals position which seemed unlikely as recently as a month ago. The coach used the preparation for Wednesday’s game against Melbourne Heart, which the Jets won 2-0 despite going down to 10 men, as an example of the changing environment.

Four days earlier, the team had recorded their first away win of the season against North Queensland in Townsville and were able to fly direct to Melbourne because of the increased resources made available to them.

“This wouldn’t have been possible in the past. In the past we would have had to go back to Newcastle, train for a day, and then the following day go again. It’s possible now. We are now able to do these things. Every little bit helps,” Culina said.

“Someone asked, ‘if there’s one thing which has turned things around’. There isn’t one thing that’s turned this around, Obviously, Mr Tinkler and his money and his support has been terrific for us, because there was a stage there when we weren’t getting paid, but once that was sorted out, it’s many, many little things.”

“It’s good people across the board. Good support staff, good people in the office. A good bunch of players who have pride in themselves and that’s all contributed to our journey.”

Culina is now wary that having had all these things fall into place in such a short space of time, there are no longer any excuses for his team not to perform at their best.

“There is still a long way to go. We know where we need to be and we are not there yet.”

In many ways, the career of talented young striker Marko Jesic is an analogy for the issues that the Jets have confronted over the past 12 months.

Jesic, 20, has endured a wretched run of knee injuries with reconstructions on both knees. But in the past month, he has used his considerable talent and determination to make a real impact on the league, scoring four of the club’s 10 goals in that six-match unbeaten run.

“I’m just one of those players who are mentally tough. I reckon I’m one of the toughest mentally in the whole league, because no-one has gone through at such a young age. I’ve always thought to myself, just keep going and eventually things will turn around for me,” he said.

“It took a bit of time, a bit of effort, and it looks like it paid off.”

If strength is forged through adversity, both Jesic and his club appear well steeled to get through whatever else this season has to throw at them.