There are plenty of football haters in Australia. But hub football has proven a surprise hit, showing why the A-League is both an underrated competition and one suited to winter.
Despite a wretched lead-in with travel arrangements, lingering COVID concerns, foreign players departing, and a four-month hiatus, the A-League came in with low expectations.
But the games have been coming thick and fast, with the cooler conditions contributing to some eye-catching A-League quality.
The storylines, goals, and drama have caught the eye - and A-League players clearly look like they’re enjoying themselves being back on the park.
The race for an A-League finals spot remains wide open while City and the always entertaining Phoenix are in a battle royale for the crucial second place behind Premiers Sydney FC.
And it’s been Australian players and coaches leading this renaissance.
This was embodied in a fast and furious top-two A-League clash between Sydney FC and Melbourne City on Saturday.
Relentless pressing, incisive attacking thrusts, coupled with action at both ends.
Both sets of players shone in a game of high quality.
Sydney’s Socceroos keeper Andrew Redmayne and midfielder Adrian Caceres stood out. And Socceroo striker Jamie Maclaren again delivered for City.
If this was a grand final dress rehearsal, then the A-League's big day will deliver.
And kudos go to A-League behemoth Melbourne Victory.
Under interim Victory boss Grant Brebner, the A-League powerhouse has used the hub to work on longer-term plans, giving a host of younger, Australian players a chance to play senior A-League football.
Adelaide United have arguably been the story of the hub.
Under interim coach, former Socceroo and A-League history maker Carl Veart, the Reds’ resurgence has been beautiful to watch.
In particular, Adelaide's stunning 5-3 win over Perth Glory was terrific viewing.
Youngster Pacifique Niyongabire weaved his way through for his maiden A-League goal for the Reds in just his second appearance, with a sublime celebration to match.
It summed up the joy in the United camp these days.
With a squad of mostly SA talents, their recalibration under Veart shows why Australian coaches can at times be a smarter option for A-League clubs both now and into an uncertain future in Australia.
Likewise, the unlikely finals surge of the Jets is another storyline that’s giving the A-League a lift.
Two wins from as many games keep Newcastle’s A-League finals dream alive.
What's more, Western United’s Connor Pain could well be back in the Socceroos with his form, while teammate Max Burgess is a potential Socceroo of the future after he continued his goalscoring form against Victory.
To cap it off, on Monday night, the Mariners and a young Victory put on a five-goal classic in Sydney.
Aussie Dylan Ruiz-Diaz, 19, the hero for the Mariners in a comeback 3-2 win.
Along with charismatic teenage striker Alou Kuol, these two have given the A-League wooden spooners a shot of excitement and hope for the future.
Though why the Mariners have not given more academy talents a chance to play their final few A-League games remains both a mystery and a missed opportunity.
The players across the A-League clearly enjoy these cooler conditions.
“Playing in winter has helped,” says Western coach Mark Rudan.
Reds midfielder @StefanMauk adding: 'Winter football 100 times better. Nice to not be thinking about how hot it is going to be and just concentrate on the game itself. Easier to get around the field and we only had three weeks to get fit.”
Brisbane Roar’s former Celtic and Socceroos striker @ScottyMcD83 said on his feed: ‘... people who are saying summer for football clearly haven’t run about in 40+ degrees before. It’s impossible to play a high tempo transitional game in those conditions hence why you have 11 teams playing in front of each passing.'
The A-League has plenty of time to address the stadia use issue (which will affect surfaces at some clubs in a winter calendar) before moving to a March-November schedule in 2022.
And by then, Fox Sports will be out of the picture, with the A-League potentially streamed across the A-League's own channels.