Mariners Deny Wanderers, Write Different Fairytale Ending
We did have a fairytale finish to the A-League Grand Final, it just wasn’t the one Western Sydney fans were hoping for. The history-making franchise, in its first year of existence, couldn’t cap its remarkable season with a win in the league’s showpiece event, falling to the Central Coast Mariners 2-0.
Western Sydney, a club owned by Football Federation Australia (FFA) surprised nearly every fan and pundit in the country, finishing atop the ladder at the end of the regular season and establishing itself as the best team in the A-League for much of the year.
With a passionate group of supporters packing Parramatta Stadium and following the Wanderers on the road, the story became one of the best in recent years in Australian sport.
But the Wanderers went into the Grand Final seriously hampered by injuries and suspension. Youssouf Hersi, the midfield sparkplug, missed out because of a silly second yellow card in the semi-final win over Brisbane Roar. Without his speed and skill, Western Sydney struggled to unlock a solid Mariners’ defense. Mark Bridge and Shinji Ono barely had an impact on the match.
Already missing key defender Iacopo LaRocca (on a four-match ban because of a wayward elbow), the Wanderers were also forced to play underdone Jerome Polenz and Aaron Mooy.
That said, Central Coast were exceptional on the day and dominated most of the play.
A first half goal from an unlikely source – Dutch defender Patrick Zwaanswijk – was matched by a second half penalty from the A-League’s leading scorer Daniel McBreen. With Western Sydney rarely troubling keeper Mat Ryan, the Mariners cruised to victory.
It was sweet redemption for Graham Arnold and his men. The Mariners had failed in three previous attempts at Grand Final glory. In addition, the club lost arguably its best player, Tom Rogic to Celtic in the January transfer window and had to deal with financial issues that caused uncertainty about players’ paycheques.
Central Coast has a great combination of veterans and younger players, but many of those kids are on the radar of European clubs. The aforementioned Rogic is in Glasgow, Bernie Ibini trialled in Belgium, and keeper Mat Ryan and defender Trent Sainsbury are said to be prime targets to transfer.
In the meantime, the Mariners are still in contention in the Asian Champions League. They had to keep the celebrations muted since they boarded a plane the morning after the Grand Final for a trip to Korea and a Tuesday meeting with Suwon Bluewings. With two matches to play, a point against Suwon would be a big boost for Central Coast’s chances of reaching the knockout stage.
Six Pack From Down Under
1 The attendance at Sunday’s sold-out Grand Final was 42,100, while 297,000 tuned in to the live telecast on Fox Sports. Though a relatively small viewing number, it was the highest-rated sporting event on pay-tv on Sunday.
2 It was a record-breaking television year for the A-League overall, with audiences up 23% from last season. Next season will see one game a week on free-to-air TV, so that should help more Australians – notoriously undersubscribed to pay tv by US and UK standards – access the product.
3 FFA CEO David Gallop said his research shows that in the key 18-34 male demographic, football has surpassed cricket as the number one summer sport.
4 Gallop also revealed that 26 fans have copped five-year bans for setting off flares at A-League matches.
5 As expected, A-League player of the year Marco Rojas will not return to Melbourne Victory next season. Rojas, a 21-year old New Zealander is thought to be headed for the Bundesliga.
6 To add to the misery at Adelaide United, unwanted striker Sergio van Dijk is now playing for Persib Bandung in Indonesia and has scored 10 goals since his arrival in January.