Much has already been written about how Alen Stajcic dragged the Mariners back from near A-League oblivion, then mysteriously vanished into the sunset.

He did a magnificent job, but the fans were left bereft and bewildered at his departure – especially as it wasn’t for some Ange-like greener pasture.

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Enter Nick Montgomery – a previous fan-favourite but that’s never been any guarantee of success (or continued favourite status). The one thing giving the fans a bit of hope was how well Monty had run the youth academy over the last few years. The young teams had been very successful and some extremely gifted players had emerged.

Indeed, so successful was the Mariners academy it had become the academy of choice for young players all over the country, which could only augur well for the first team. (And other teams – you could pick a very good XI from all the Mariners products running around in different colours.)

So now, as we head into the finals, the Mariners are in the box seat for the top six – four points ahead of seventh, with two games to play (against second last and third last). Mind you, one of those games is a derby and the Jets will be out to spoil the Mariners’ finals momentum (as they did last year).

It has been another epic achievement, against the odds. The unavailability of last year’s defensive hero (Ruon Tongyik) for much of the season was a major headache, vastly alleviated by the form of Kye Rowles and the emergence of CB partner Dan Hall. Lewis Miller has also stepped up at right back and Jacob Farrell is improving rapidly. With Birighitti barking instructions behind, they are a very solid defensive unit.

Remembering also the defection of Danny Da Silva at the end of last season, and the loss of Matty Simon at the start of this season, Monty has had to find new ways of making and scoring goals.

The inclusion of Moresche at the start of the season, and the January signing of Jason Cummings (I refuse to call him Cumdog – sounds like a tindr handle) have yielded results. Cummings in particular was an inspired addition to the side and is every chance of making Arnie’s Socceroos selection for the Qatar playoffs. He can make and score a goal and (for a striker) does a power of defensive work. Extremely popular in the dressing room also, which helps the side glue together.

The understanding these players have built with Marcos Urena (a seriously intelligent player) is a testament to their own ability but also to the combination Monty has recruited and weaponised.

Yet another academy product is Josh Nisbet – also likely to be in Arnie’s Little Black Book. Often underestimated due to his stature (Apart-height?) Nizzy’s reputation is growing rapidly. His box to box work rate is second to none in the league and his eye for a pass in the final third is indicative of the very highest quality. He is very much the Mariners’ metronome. If only he could shoot. (When he does find his shooting boots he’ll be off to a much bigger league.)

The list goes on – academy players developed by Monty stepping up to the big stage, already steeped in his football philosophy and systems. Max Balard, Harry Steele, Cy Goddard, Matt Hatch, Harry Macarthy, Cameron Windust, Damian Tsekenis… all have played some part this year and all are testament to Monty’s ability to spot and coach a young player.

Of course, the current jewel in the Mariners’ academy crown is Garang Kuol – only 17 but surely destined for the very top. This lad has everything the modern player needs to be a success at the pointy end of the pitch – pace, touch, vision, calmness under pressure – the way he takes his goals is more like a senior striker at the peak of his powers. I’ve seen nothing like him in Australia since Mark Viduka was banging them in as an 18 yo for Melbourne Knights.

Garang (and his team mates) are getting all the plaudits as the Mariners stride into the semis, but it has to be remembered that it is Monty’s magic that put all these boys together (some years ago in most cases) and is building the structure and systems which suit them.

Presuming they do make the finals, no team will want to play them. They are in some pretty awesome form right now – controlling games and growing in confidence. They could go deep indeed. And Monty has been the quiet achiever making it all happen.

Adrian's books can be purchased at any good bookstore or through ebook alchemy. His first sci-fi novel will be published by Hague Publishing in 2022.


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