Jets coach Ernie Merrick has been in three A-League Grand Finals but says Saturday’s decider against his former club Melbourne Victory feels different due to the passionate Newcastle support.
Sydney FC’s Graham Arnold may have won coach of the season at the Dolan Warren awards, but in the hearts and minds of Novocastrians Merrick's achievements with Jets this season make him number one.
Before his arrival Newcastle had been without finals football for eight seasons and last term were cellar dwellers but Merrick’s influence has propelled the Jets to one win away from the A-League title.
Merrick told FourFourTwo he no longer has the benefit of anonymity after Newcastle’s feats this season and is loving the passionate support ahead of hosting Melbourne Victory in Saturday night’s decider.
“I can’t buy myself a cup of coffee or a beer, someone is always buying it for me,” he said.
“I have been in three Grand Finals with a big team and a big town with Melbourne Victory, but it’s a bit different again this time.
“The town are football mad and rugby league mad and they’re real sports fans.
“It’s as though they’re desperate to have some success and to have something to be really happy about and we’ve provided that, there’s a real buzz about the town.”
Merrick even took time to joke about his stony face image that accompanied Riley McGee scorpion kick goal that was seen around the world.
“My face didn’t show it, but I was very excited,” he said. “And that’s a credit to the players.
"To be in the Grand Final is just really special and it’s a credit to them. Nothing has phased them whatsoever and the confidence doesn’t just come from me.
“It comes from a variety of people. Lawrie McKinna has been a major player here and Martin Lee our owner and Joel Griffiths, for signing players.
“It was our first season really and Lawrie's second and to achieve what we have and the players to do what they have done, despite some setbacks with suspensions and injuries, it has just been terrific.”
“We’ve got a good squad together and we’re going to give our best shot on Saturday night.”
Ahead of the biggest game of the Australian football calendar Merrick was measured about the Jets chances in securing the A-League Championship.
“It’s the same as anyone else," he said. “There are two teams. So, we’re 50/50.
"We’re really glad we’re hosting Victory. I did think Sydney were the best team in the league this year, but it’s all about qualifying and Victory pulled it off in the semi-final.
“It’s a pleasure to host the team that I used to be involved with coaching. I’m really looking forward to it.”