It has been a long time between drinks for Central Coast fans – with a fair bit of pain in between. To understand what a return to the big stage means to the club’s loyal supporters, veteran Australian football journalist Ray Gatt, also a Central Coast fan, penned this column for the club’s KEEPUP site.
During its history in the national competition, the Central Coast Mariners have shown that they are no strangers to dealing with adversity.
For one reason or another, life in the A-League and FFA Cup has been far from smooth sailing. Indeed, it’s been a sobering mixture of disappointments and kicks in the gut interspersed with the bright spots.
In terms of disappointments, the club lived through three crushing grand final defeats before finally winning their first one back in 2013.
One of those grand final defeats, against Newcastle, came after the FFA forced the Mariners to play it at the Sydney Football Stadium instead of in Gosford despite earning the right by finishing top of the table during the regular season.
Money triumphed over fairness in that case.
The successes came in the form of the championship, two premiership (first past the post) titles and now three appearances in the FFA Cup semi-finals after the club qualified for the final against Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park on Saturday with a 1-0 win over Sydney FC a couple of weeks ago.
Despite the best efforts of the Mariners management to have the final played in Gosford, Football Australia opted to ignore the valid and passionate claims that the club and the Central Coast region was deserving of staging the fixture.
Instead, the head body decided that the final venue would be decided by draw, and that name was Victory. If Victory won their semi final, it would be held in Melbourne. Had they lost Gosford would have been the venue.
Of course, the footballing Gods were unkind with Victory going on to an easy win, thus earning the home venue advantage and likely providing FA with a financial windfall.
So, the Mariners are forced to do things the hard way yet again.
It now means that in the seven year history of the Cup competition and come Saturday, the club will have played 17 games, 15 of which have been away from home.
I can’t help but think there are many, including neutrals, who believe FA missed a golden opportunity to provide a massive boost to football in the Central Coast region.
It is a growing region with many passionate football fans who would have turned out in force to provide a wonderful atmosphere and an occasion to savour.
Yes, the money situation – a much bigger gate at AAMI Park – is understandable, but surely there comes a time when you have to consider making decisions that benefit a community and none are more deserving than the Mariners faithful.
Be that as it may, the Yellow and Navy will put it all aside, as they have done countless times in the past.
The team, magnificently led by Ollie Bozanic and superbly coached by Nick Montgomery, will be up for the fight of their lives.
It’s been a long time since there was trophy success at Gosford.
The fans and club have endured many tough times since the championship of 2013. But they have stuck solid, through thick and thin.
The resurgence started last season when, after a number of seasons of doom and gloom, the club made the finals for the first time since 2014.
Montgomery has continued the Renaissance this season, taking the club to the final of the Cup where it will face a daunting challenge against the rejuvenated Melbourne Victory, the undoubted benchmark of clubs in Australian soccer.
It won’t be easy.
Victory are on a roll and playing superbly under Tony Popovic and they’ll have a huge home crowd behind them.
The Victorians, who already have an FFA Cup success to their credit, have had some lean times in recent seasons and will be keen to redress that situation.
But, rest assured the Mariners are equally hungry for success and will leave nothing on the field.
The club #WontBackDown from this fight!