Sydney FC boss’s straight-talking was highlight of new-format press conference, writes Tom Smithies.
In the end the body language was revealing, two coaches who looked like they couldn’t quite believe what had just unfolded.
The Mariners’ deserved and dangerously comfortable defeat of Sydney FC wasn’t season-defining, but it underscored the way the teams have begun the campaign. To say the form book has been cast aside would be an understatement.
Sitting side by side for the first time straight after the game, Steve Corica and Nick Montgomery looked like a pair of fathers, one ready to lay down the law to his recalcitrant teens and the other nervously proud of some precocious achievement.
For the first time, the A-Leagues was trying to reshuffle the press conference concept; coaches sitting shoulder to shoulder in a bid to stop the dead-batting of questions. If Corica and Montgomery weren’t the most likely to start sparring over what had just transpired, there was enough displeasure in Corica’s usually measured tones to suggest the Sky Blues players better train the house down this week.
No wonder, for the way the Mariners tore into Sydney from the opening whistle suggested they smelt blood; what doubled the shock value was how poorly the visitors dealt with the constant press.
Some of them looked like Wednesday night’s extra-time victory over Macarthur in the FFA Cup had depleted them, but as captain Alex Wilkinson noted pointedly after the game, those rapid turnarounds were the norm last season and Sydney got to the grand final.
Everything Corica said put his players on notice. He hadn’t spoken to them post-match, he said, wanting to wait until he was “a little bit calmer”. His established first-teamers needed an instant response or they wouldn’t be starting. Reinforcements would be sought in a month when the January window opens. “We didn’t deserve anything out of that game,” he added.
There are significant caveats, of course. As Corica noted, Melbourne City were in an even worse position last year after four games, and won the league. Sydney are also struggling with injuries to key players, with the season loss of Luke Brattan particularly damaging. It’s hard to believe, even so, that they won’t find their rhythm anyway, so well-established is this team.
And yet the Mariners had made them look horribly brittle, and the playbook has been written for now on how to knock Sydney out of their stride. Macarthur’s caginess hadn’t worked in the week, so Montgomery sent the Mariners out to go for the throat.
Not that their performance was built only on energy. Many of their academy graduates look highly assured in possession, playing with poise and their heads up. Passes were largely not rushed as the home side sought to play out from the back. “I’ve spent a couple of years with these young boys and to be honest they’ve grown every week,” said Montgomery.
If anything, from a neutral’s point of view, there was disappointment when they dropped off near the end of the first half, content from that point to see out the win. “We’ve started every game this season on the front foot – what was different is we were a bit more clinical,” said Montgomery, who has thrown in a bunch of the kids he brought through the club’s academy and so far seen them thrive.
The key words there are “so far”. Four rounds is enough to begin to show patterns at play, but there is plenty of time for teams to adjust their course. Far from descending into verbal barbs, these two coaches were both keen to underline that, and to heap praise on each other.
“You’ve got a top coach here, that’s won championships and FFA cups and you’ve got players in there who’ve also had a lot of success, so I think today’s just one game early on in the season,” cautioned Montgomery.
“Listen, I’ve got all the respect for Monty,” returned Corica. “He’s done a great job obviously, and just started as well.”
Sparks might fly later in the season, when coaches are more under pressure and results become more definitive. But for now it’s Sydney FC’s players who are under pressure, as Corica’s refreshingly candid ire made clear.