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A Mariners championship would perfectly cap off two years of utter madness



It would be the most fitting story in Australian football, after two years upon which we will reflect in the most head scratching of ways, if the Central Coast Mariners could walk away with the 2021-22 A-League Men title.

What began as a mysterious and localised illness in China quickly spread across the globe, taking lives, sanity and freedoms away from people mostly foreign to such an experience.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about the worst in some, exposed conspiracy crackpots for what they are, and in the end, saw the vast majority queueing up for a series of shots that would allow us to return to work, society and sport.

Whilst the COVID journey does continue and will potentially be one with a few twists and turns in the road we are yet to navigate, the people of planet earth are mostly back at work, unrestricted in their movements and enjoying watching football matches that continue to come in wave after wave, as leagues and competitions attempt to catch up on postponed fixtures.

Whilst some current European leagues were impacted in only a limited way, the A-League Men was not so lucky and the scheduling we have seen over the last three months has been nothing short of chaotic.

The APL was forced in its hand and determined not to shorten a season and fail to meet the demands of broadcasters and new corporate partners. Mid-week football became the norm, teams backed up for three or four games across periods of often less than two weeks and resources and finances became equally stretched.

APL boss Danny Townsend spoke openly about the behind-the-scenes pain experienced by clubs across the 2021-22 season at the recent Football Writer’s Festival in Jamberoo. His comments implied that things became incredibly dicey for a few clubs, especially those forced to play matches outside their home base for extended periods of time.

However, and I say this with fingers crossed, it appears we will have a relatively ‘normal’ end to the A-League season come May and a Central Coast Mariners title is far from off the cards. Undoubtedly one of the teams stretched financially to within an inch of its life during the darkest silence of the pandemic, the little engine that could has arguably become the story of the league.

After a brisk start that saw new coach Nick Montgomery position his team fourth on the ladder after nine weeks of play, everything fell in a hole soon after and the Mariners plummeted to 11th after a series of losses where they received little help from officialdom.

From late January to late February Central Coast played seven matches in 28 days and picked up a total of two points from a possible 21. Outside that chaotic period, the Mariners have secured 31 of a possible 48, lost just three times and scored more goals than any team in the league bar Melbourne City.

Jason Cummings

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Sure, other teams have trodden similarly challenging paths, yet I am not sure any has rebounded so well after it and an argument could be made that Montgomery’s men enter their final three games of the season as one of the form outfits in the competition.

March and April have been sparkling months for Gosford’s favourite sons. Eleven matches have produced 27 goals for, 15 against, six wins, four draws and a lone loss to Sydney FC on a night when everything when wrong right from the start.

Draws with Melbourne Victory and Western United reflect their competitiveness, as do two beltings of the fifth-placed Phoenix. Over the last two months things have gone a little off the predicted script, after the 2021-22 season looked to be slipping away off the back of little luck and some questionable decisions.

Instead, the Mariners have an opportunity to finish as high as fourth on the A-League ladder and have matches against Brisbane Roar and Newcastle Jets on the run home in which they will fancy their chances.

Whilst the three Victorian-based teams do look impressive, one could question whether any is playing better that the Mariners right now. Who knows what physical state Melbourne City will be in when they return to Australia in early May and Central Coast have picked up points against the other two the last time their paths crossed.

I cannot think of anything more brilliant than the Mariners holding the trophy aloft on grand final day, a perfect metaphor for the unexpected storyline we have lived since March 2020.

I’m sure Melbourne Victory will lay claim to having the most momentum as we approach the finals, yet should the Mariners sneak or surge into the knock-out matches, they will be riding a wave of emotion and support others may well find difficult to resist.

The little engine that could appears to be believing that it actually can.



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