In 2021, for the first time since their championship triumph in 2013, the Central Coast Mariners finally made it to the top six and the finals of the A-League Men.
It was a welcome and exciting time to be a Coastie, after years of the team floundering at the bottom of the table and watching coach after coach attempt (and fail) to bring the Mariners back to their former glory.
They were out of contention for the championship soon after they were welcomed back into the finals fold, losing 2-0 to Macarthur in front of a home crowd, and bowing out of the season.
This year, the Mariners have once again secured their spot in the final six. Following a haphazard start to the season, the side are still on an impressive unbeaten run with just one match remaining for the regular season.
However, they’ve finished in the bottom of the top six, currently sitting in fifth but potentially moving down to sixth once all games have been played.
The season prior they finished third but were out of the finals after one match.
So what makes this season different?
This season they have a championship-winning team.
The inclusion of Scotsman/Englishman/Australian Jason Cummings has been a blessing to the side. Nine goals in 19 matches may seem less than other strikers in the league, but the energy and talent he brings has elevated the squad.
Then there’s Nick Montgomery, the championship-winning player turned rookie coach who has so far led the Mariners to the FFA Cup final in just his first year in the job.
There were concerns for the team when former Matildas coach Alen Stajcic left at the end of last season, but Montgomery has gone above and beyond expectations of what the team could achieve.
Young talent has also been at the forefront for the Central Coast.
The Mariners’ academy is arguably one of the best talent sources in Australia. Alou Kuol was incredibly impressive during his time with the yellow and navy, and his brother Garang has taken the league by storm at only 17 years old.
Joshua Nisbet, although small, is an incredible talent for the team, and finally cemented himself as such after bagging his first A-League Men goal earlier in the season.
The return of Storm Roux after time away with Melbourne Victory has also been underrated.
The right back has shown consistent form this season – and most recently assisted the young Kuol in his fourth goal of the season against Brisbane.
However, the Mariners have had a shocker this year when it’s come to late conceded goals.
They conceded a 2-1 lead over Sydney FC in January to lose 3-2, and late goals also lost them the match against Melbourne City in February.
In the back end of the season, they have got considerably better, notably against Western Sydney when they came from 2-0 down with a red card to level the scores and snatch a point away from the Wanderers.
If they are to be fighting for the championship this season, they have to continue their strong run of form, and eliminate their poor defence towards the 90-minute mark, when they often have conceded the win.
But many football fans would not be shocked to see the little community club fighting for the win on grand final day.