I really liked Paul Okon. I did briefly resent him for not keeping John Hutchinson as his assistant, but I liked his passion and the style the players showed (occasionally) under his tenure. Now he is gone, and the Mariners are adrift in the darkness.
Discerning readers of my work may have detected the vaguest whiff of sea-salt, from time to time. Yes, I am a Mariners fan, and like all others in the stands at Central Coast Stadium, I am wondering once again where it’s all gone wrong and where we might be heading.
No finals appearance since Arnie left and, in fact, the finals are becoming a dim and distant memory. Yet it all started so promisingly this season. Despite losing most of the first few games, we actually could have won all of them. A few one percenters here and there went against us – chances missed…mistakes at the back…
It could easily have been very different because winning breeds confidence and confidence – knowing how to win – is worth so much on a professional football field where the margins are so incredibly narrow.
Paul Okon may not have always brought the results but he certainly brought the theatre. His passion and pain were all too apparent and when his team were on, they played breathtaking football. His ability to attract quality players like Wout Brama, Tom Hiariej and Daniel de Silva brought the fans back to the club after the Cardboard Years under Tony Walmsley.
Mariners fans at the stadium and in the pubs and clubs were proud of their team again. Even without the results, it was okay to be a Mariners fan because you always knew they were a chance. If they could beat Sydney, they could beat anyone.
And now Okon’s gone. Walked out in the middle of a meeting with the board.
Obviously the conspiracy theorists will start cranking up…including me. Has he already been offered the Sydney job and the board wouldn’t match the salary? Did the board want him to take a pay cut for next year? Did they want to get rid of de Silva, Brama and Hiariej and replace them with Academy players?
Doesn’t matter. What does matter is who can come in and get the Mariners’ ship under way once again. In fact, this is a major opportunity to bring in one of the young NPL up-and-comers like Mark Rudan, George Katsakis or Arthur Pappas. These guys genuinely deserve a go at the A-League and I'd be happy with any of them.
Two others I wouldn’t mind seeing take the keys to Central Coast Stadium are Ross Aloisi (if he could ever be crowbarred away from his brother) and old fan favourite John Hutchinson.
Hutcho has been learning his trade as head coach of Seattle Sounders2 in the American United Soccer League. I did once attend a “coach the coaches” session run by Hutcho and was knocked out by his energy, enthusiasm and knowledge. Obviously, I’m no proper judge when it comes to professional football (despite my outstanding record coaching the wife’s team in the Central Coast Womens’ All Age), but I reckon the locals would love to see Hutcho stick his oar back in.
He didn’t lose a game in pre-season while caretaker coach (pre-Okon), and can hardly do worse than anyone else since Arnie.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.