The A-League Angle

Mariners break the drought

April 21, 2013
By Quinn Jones

The A-League Angle delves into the world of Australian football, analysing key talking points from the top-flight club competition Down Under.

Breaking the drought

The Central Coast Mariners are the 2012/13 A-League champions
GettyImages / Mark Nolan The Central Coast Mariners are the 2012/13 A-League champions

Down here in our dry, dusty continent we have a name for the rains that turn dead creek beds into raging rivers and brown paddocks into lush rainforests: drought breakers.

Sometimes we don't get to say those two tantalising words for years. Decades even. Hell, I sometimes wonder if those living in the interior even know what it means, let alone use it in passing conversation.

But sometimes, just sometimes, those who feel the cool breath of moisture on a daily basis know exactly what it means to break a drought - just ask Central Coast Mariners' fans.

Born and bred next to the deep waters of the Hunter region in NSW, the Mariners faithful have been tormented year after year, grand final after grand final, as their opponents - Sydney FC, Newcastle Jets and Brisbane Roar - stole glory from their grasp.

But not anymore. After eight long years of heartache, tears and a barren run no club would wish on their rival, Graham Arnold's men finally succeeded in becoming A-League champions with a 2-0 win over the Western Sydney Wanderers. They just had to beat the league's feel-good story of the season to do it.

Give me a dollar for every football fan who backed the league's latest expansion ploy to reach the grand final at the start of the season, and I would have nothing in my wallet. Scratch that, I would probably owe a small fortune to the bank. Wanderers manager Tony Popovic has produced a minor miracle to build a team from absolute nothing which, not only captured the imagination with its modern style of football, but claimed the minor premiership in its maiden season. All this within the space of a year.

Western Sydney Wanderers fans cheer on their team
GettyImages / Cameron Spencer Western Sydney Wanderers fans cheer on their team

However, an inaugural championship eluded Western Sydney as their flowing football broke down on the biggest stage. Maybe it was just a game too far, perhaps their motto of "every games is a final" bled them dry or maybe, and I like this one the best, the football gods were finally smiling on the Mariners.

It certainly seemed so as the 45,000 capacity Allianz Stadium was overflowing with a red and black Wanderers wave of support. The singing, chanting and cheering was aimed at only one team, but the Mariners cared little, making early forays into the Wanderers vaunted defence.

But despite the early pressure, there was no guilt edged chance. Not until the 43rd minute.

A corner was won, the Wanderers' box a flurry of jostling and pushing and then, from the back of the pack, Dutch defender Patrick Zwaanswijk raced through the crowd and headed home the opening goal. Last season Zwaanswijk scored seven goals. This was his first of this campaign. Not only that, it was the first time the Wanderers had conceded from a set piece all season. What did I say about the football gods?

But suddenly the ball was down the other end and the Wanderers' players, bench and fans rose as one. Did the ball not just hit Pedj Bojic's arm in the box? The replays showed that indeed there was contact but the officials missed it and the game moved on. Again, what did I say about the football gods?

The Wanderers returned for the second half less lethargic and looking to add one more twist to their Cinderella story. And for a moment there, Mariners' fans again hid their eyes from the action, daring not to look should they catch that precise moment when those eight long years would come back to haunt them.

But suddenly the Mariners' players, bench and fans rose as one. Did the ball not just hit Jerome Polenz's arm in the box? The replays showed that indeed there was contact and the officials pointed to the spot. Daniel McBreen, the league's leading goal scorer, stepped up and perfectly dispatched the ball to the top left hand corner. I hope you're starting to hear those football gods?

Mariners' Patrick Zwaanswijk celebrates scoring the opening goal of the grand final
GettyImages / Mark NolanMariners' Patrick Zwaanswijk celebrates scoring the opening goal of the grand final

The Wanderers kept pushing but as time ticked by, there was a growing sense that this was the Mariners' time; there would be no epic comeback, no late goal and that finally, the Mariners would be crowned champions.

And so they were. Full-time dooming the Wanderers and their fairy tale, while the Mariners, one of the league's most consistent clubs, rejoiced their victory. They had endured bad luck stories, good luck stories, unbelievable stories; and all to write their own chapter in A-League history.

They say third time's a charm but down here in our dry, dusty continent, Arnold and his men simply say fourth time's a drought breaker.