Ready for some Fish and Bling?
Apart from Phill Chadwick and his Hindmarsh army, Sydney against Central Coast is the final we all
wanted, writes Sebastian Hassett.
I HAD to have a quick giggle at what my colleague Phill Chadwick wrote about Adelaide United and Sydney FC
being aligned because of their so-called ‘similarities of strength’.
Sure, Adelaide’s conglomerate of veterans defied the odds this year and showed that battle-hardened NSL
experience was a more reliable formula than imports and local youngsters, but their model for immediate
success is not an admirable one – not if we want the game to grow in this country, anyway.
Whether you like them or not, they are no Sydney, and never will be. Certainly not while they’re pulling
barely 11,000 to a final, no less.
Since gambles in squad formation haven’t worked for the likes of Perth, Queensland and Melbourne in the
short term, I concede that Phill has the right to gloat about his beloved team. But soon, the clubs that have
ventured more broadly – rather then begrudgingly accepting a single import (who was rather exciting, and
subsequently joined by another) – will prevail.
Sadly for Phill, the adage of form being temporary and class having more permanent qualities proved true
as Adelaide promptly bombed out of the title race. Is that harsh on the team who finished as minor premier?
In horse racing parlance, there’s no point in leading the Cox Plate for 2000 of the 2040 metres – despite
the fact that 2000m is generally considered a standard staying length. In the same way that Adelaide might
usually be crowned champions without finals, you have to adapt to the competition you are in. If a horse can’t
finish that final 40m strongly, the rest is irrelevant.
And for all the hot air being piped around by their supporters, the ‘Reds’ – as they like to be called –
weren’t able to come up with the goods in any of their three finals matches, losing two and scrambling for a
Central Coast on the other hand, timed their run to perfection. At times this year they looked slightly
overwhelmed in such company, but have always held their feet, and deserve a crack at the title.
A few of our readers suggested Phill would have been smarter to compare Adelaide and Central Coast, for
they seem far more similar, and I agree.
Sydney and Melbourne are the ‘glamorous’ clubs; Perth, Newcastle and Queensland are striving for the next
rung, while Adelaide and Central Coast seem to have this certain degree of anonymity about them – needless to
say New Zealand don’t even register.
Neither club should be underestimated, yet that’s exactly what happened this year. But where Adelaide has
relied on the wise old heads of Veart, Beltrame, Aloisi, Alagich, Costanzo, Shengqing Qu and Fernando Rech,
the Mariners have looked to the next generation.
Michael Beauchamp has been a star in defence and duly rewarded with his first Socceroo cap, whilst the
fleet-footed Dean Heffernan has emerged the league’s most damaging wingback. Noel Spencer has been class, and
if it wasn’t for a season-ending knee injury, John Hutchinson might have put himself into contention for a
World Cup berth.
Matthew Osman has lately come into his own, and Danny Vukovic could be the next Bosnich. The best part
about all this? They’re all under 30.
Of course, a few oldies never hurt, and Stewart Petrie and Tom Pondeljak still show silk touch, while the
work ethic of Damien Brown and Andre Gumprecht shouldn’t be undersold. But the veterans are few at Central
Coast Stadium, and they can ultimately be replaced without drama. At Adelaide, coach John Kosmina doesn’t use
oldies to fill gaps – he relies on them.
Whilst early results have proved that a settled squad of mature talent yields victories, Adelaide is
nowhere near as well placed as other clubs looking three or four years ahead.
There’s a confounding argument that says that in football, unlike AFL, the nature of the transfer window
and the lure of overseas competitions means investing in youth only bears fruits for others. But as the
A-League strengthens, and our forays in Asia continue, Australia will soon become a much more attractive and
viable option for young footballers seeking to ply their trade.
As such, Central Coast need not worry about losing their young stars to Europe. In the NSL days, a team
would encourage players to go, hoping to make a quick buck in the process. Nowadays, clubs and players are
becoming more tightly fused together, and only ridiculously good opportunities – such as the one presented to
Archie Thompson at PSV Eindhoven – can prise players from this competition.
The Mariners will continue to grow and be successful, fixating themselves as part of the Gosford
community’s drive to cast off Sydney’s shadow. Indeed, Sunday’s final presents them with an awesome
opportunity to do exactly that.
For Adelaide, everyone knew their window of opportunity was disturbingly short. They gambled on
battle-weary types determined to endure the tribulations of an erratic new competition; for a while, it looked
like paying off, and in many ways, it did. But success is only ever measured in championships, and as other
teams started to clue up to their dour, defensive methods, the potential at Kosmina’s disposal had already
They will not improve unless they invest in the next generation – and that means looking beyond South
Australia’s local competition, and ploughing into the cream of the eastern seaboard. Surely Mike Valkanis is
proof that Adelaide’s mistrust of interstate talent is unfounded.
However, we now come to the final – the one every true fan wanted to see. It’s the youth and guile
generated by the upstart Mariners against the sheer brilliance and thrill of Pierre Littbarski’s Sydney FC.
What could be better than that?
In a memorable past year for Australian football, both at home and on the world stage, a full house at
Aussie Stadium shapes as a fitting tribute to the progress of the game on these shores.
And as a reporter who’s covered plenty of false dawns with the various guises of our domestic competitions,
it’s nice to know this one’s finally the real deal.
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