Roy O’Donovan’s two-year A-League spell at Newcastle Jets is over with the club pulling their offer a contract extension.
This 30-something bloke had lost it. We’d got him. The Squadron Newcastle fans had tried his patience to the point where his blood was boiling and he just couldn’t take it anymore. His body was rigid, his right arm outstretched, finger jabbing wildly in the direction of the baying Squadron.
“No, no! You’re scum!”
This was a few seasons ago at the Central Coast Mariners ground. I was with my family in the upper tier, above the Newcastle active support. This irate fellow was one bay over. He’d had enough of the ‘we hate Coast scum’ chant. He stood up, frothed at the mouth and had a mini-meltdown. Nobody below heard him; they surely wish they had. I know I shouldn’t have, but it made me smile.
The F3 Derby is the original A-League derby. It’s been well patronised over the years, and just recently Newcastle teams have started to get the upper hand on the field. It’s well observed that the trip down to Gosford is the best away day on Newy fans calendar, especially when we win.
Past derbies have had plenty of fire on the field and some matching fervour in the stands from the fans.
Season 2 and the Coasties turned up to Turton Road in their thousands, singing from outside the ground, “In your Newcastle slums”. Ah, poetic stuff, coming from the mouths of those who live in an outer suburb of Sydney.
And at the Gosford palm-treed pavilion ground I was approached by a Mariners fan. “Nice to see you here,” he said to get my attention. “It’s a long way to come to get nothing!”. Oh, how I wish I was one of those quick-thinking witty types who could fire back with a cutting put-down, but well all I had was “We’ll see”. As it happened the Jets earnt a 1-1 come-from-behind draw. I was looking for Mr Long-way-to-come-for-nothing, but he was winning his personal game of hide-and-seek. Typical.
In 2008 we played three finals games against Central Coast. The Turton Road semi-final was a delightful 2-0 win to the Jets. Million-dollar man John Aloisi was apoplectic, having had a goal disallowed for hitting the post – ah, he had a shocker! Surely a two-goal buffer would mean Newcastle already had a foot in the grand final, but then 2-0 is the most dangerous scoreline at the halfway mark.
A last-minute decision to attend the second leg saw me among the Mariners fans. Two nearby Mariners were particularly annoying, and their smart comments got more cutting with every goal the Coasties scored. It ended 3-0. Unbelievable!. I have never left a ground so quickly on the final whistle. I’d bitten my lip, it had been Newcastle’s worst performance of the season.
But a 4-2 shellacking of Brisbane put the Jets into the grand final. Staying at Lavender Bay, we caught public transport over to the grand final venue, the Sydney Football Stadium. Every fan we saw was a Mariner. Outside the ground we bumped into some friends from Scone. “Looks like we’re outnumbered!”. Yes, they were right.
There were more Coasties outside the ground than Jets, but inside was a different story. Newcastle were in early and the party had already started. Prior to kick-off the Squadron unfurled the giant Jets star flag, which is now part of Newcastle football folklore. Every Newcastle fan stood up and went ballistic and a ball hadn’t even been kicked. When the cacophony subsided all eyes were on the Coasties – nada, naught, zero, nothing. The collective thought bubble above their heads was: “Errr, what do we do?”.
Mark Bridge curled home a delightful winning goal and we all jumped for Newcastle. The Central Coast Mariners father and son next to us left on the final whistle, and the celebrations began.
The rivalry has dwindled somewhat, especially as both teams have struggled to make the finals, but the 2017-18 season saw a mini-resurgence of sorts. The opening game was the F3 Derby.
I was nervous pre-game. I was confident of a win, but after many years of the flames of glory being extinguished by inept performances the nagging doubts were there. The pre-game build-up and banter had really helped build this Round 1 fixture up. I saluted the ‘F3 road out of Hooley’s and BK’s bollocks’ poster on the bridge with a firm but fair one-fingered salute. It built up the tension a little more and gave my teenage kids a chuckle too.
I’d read also that Coast fans had something special planned pre-match. My eyesight is starting to dwindle – the optometrist did tell me it was only my near vision – but their tifo was confusing. My mate next to me said, “Looks like Simpsons characters”. I don’t watch the show, but the penny half dropped and I replied, “I think that’s Roy O’Donovans head with a snake’s body”. Don’t the daft Coasties know there are no snakes in Ireland?
We couldn’t work out who the other character was, later finding out it was supposed to depict Lawrie McKinna. Anyone who heard Lawrie’s ABC interview on Monday would have heard him thank them for making him look much thinner than he really is. Anyway, nice try, Coasties.
Roy O’Donovan put in a Roy of The Rovers performance, netting a hatty in a sprightly 38 minutes. In the second half and at 3-1 up my mate turned to me and said, “I’m still a bit on edge, we need another goal”. This is what it has come to after all these years of heartache, of false dawns, of broken dreams, of waking up in the middle of the night and suddenly realising that, no, it’s not a nightmare, we really did get beat 5-0 by a second string Wellington Phoenix.
I had to agree we did need another goal. So a two-goal buffer really isn’t enough? On came 20-year-old ‘Smokin’ Joe Champness, and after bamboozling the Mariners defence with some fast and fancy footwork, there it was, the fourth Jets goal of the day. It doesn’t get any better than that – until Dimitri Petratos rifled home in the dying embers of the game, making it five goals away against the Central Coast Mariners.
A chant ensued, and in a matter of seconds “we want six!” was being bellowed by hundreds from the stands. Our need had quickly changed to a want. Then the final whistle. The whole squad came over for the after-match celebrations. The Coasties – well, many had left after the Jets’ fourth goal, probably with their tacky tifo too.
Our next meeting that season was a comfortable 2-0 home win, with January signing Pato Rodriguez immediately writing himself into Novocastrian folklore scoring while chewing gum. Cool – very cool indeed! An A-League record was then achieved with an 8-2 demolition job against the wooden-spoon Coasties.
This season so far the scorelines suggest closer games, including 2-1 and 1-0 wins to the Jets. With the Mariners losing 8-2 to the Phoenix and then sacking Mike Mulvey at 1am, Newcastle fans can only expect a win and probably a big one this Saturday night.
Don’t be surprised if Matty Millar gets an early welcome. Many Jets fans can’t wait for him to pull on the blue, red and gold shirt. The challenge for the Mariners is to stick together, so let’s see how many turn up for this weekend’s F3 Derby. With Newcastle still chasing a finals spot and expecting to seriously embarrass the Central Coast Mariners, there are no excuses but to turn up in numbers.