While the Central Coast Mariners' A-League team enter crisis talks to prevent the club leaving Gosford, that Centre of Excellence they built is beginning to pay dividends in the NSW NPL.
It's a huge turmoil that threatens to envelop one of the A-League's proudest clubs.
Gosford fans have endured years financial instability, ownership issues related to UK-based backer Mike Charlesworth, coaching disaster appointments and a toxic playing culture that has led to on-field dysfunction.
But perhaps the one positive to come out of the past few seasons has been the slow emergence of the one side of the Mariners that has always been productive and - once upon a time - led the club to their original incredible glories.
The club that spawned the likes of Trent Sainsbury, Mat Ryan and Mile Jedinak now boast one of the A-League's premier youth academy systems centered at the Tuggerah Centre of Excellence.
It's been a slow burn for the Mariners youth program, which slipped out of the NPL1 grade. But that slight demise appears to have worked wonders for a refreshing effort under club legend-turned-coach Nick Montgomery.
The Mariners' NPL squad have now scored 34 goals in nine matches this season - nearly four goals per game on average, they have strikers in the top two golden boot places - and are leading the NPL2, while F3 rivals Newcastle Jets languish at the bottom of the ladder.
They continued that phenomenal form against SD Raiders last weekend, winning 6-1, and everyone involved is now looking towards promotion, a championship, and a rare feel-good-story for one of the A-League's most derailed clubs.
“Coming up to the bye weekend we knew how important it was to get 3 points,” Montgomery said.
“To do it in such emphatic fashion showed great character and we could probably have won by more, and were unlucky to have a goal ruled out too.”
“I’m happy with the result but still disappointed that we conceded a goal late in the game that cost us a clean sheet. I’m always demanding concentration from the players so those lapses are frustrating.
“[Damian] Tsekenis has had to be patient but with Jordan Smylie injured who was having a fantastic season, he took his chances the last few games and has scored five in that span. But with those guys, plus Matt and Alou we have plenty of competition for places which is healthy.
“We need to train more in the heat,” he said earlier this week.
“With spring here we need to be better acclimatised to playing football in warmer weather.”
“If we can get ourselves to that point and manage the conditions better than the other three teams in the finals, then it could be the edge that we need through those games.”
He recently told FTBL that the club was working in the right direction.
“In terms of looking at the NYL, for me the biggest thing was recruitment,” Montgomery said. “Most of the boys are from around the Coast, which is fantastic, they’ve been around the club a long time. But we also went around the country, got a couple from Melbourne, a couple from Queensland and really casting the net to find the best talent in the country.
“The one thing that the Mariners are renowned for doing is the pathway into the A-League and beyond. You only have to look at the players that have been through this club and are playing in Scotland, the Premier League or in Europe.
“I don’t think there are many A-League clubs that can even compete with the players that have come through here and moved on. So that’s one thing that we’re proud of and we’re trying to get back to doing that.
“It’s not happened as much in the past three or four years, but if there’s one thing that I’m really passionate about doing it’s about creating opportunities in the A-League and overseas and that’s something we’re all working hard to do.”