Thank you very much for joining me tonight for a couple of hours that will live long in the memory of everyone connected to Central Coast Mariners. They arrived as underdogs but departed as champions courtesy of the most incredible performance full of belief, brilliance, and backbone.
It is a credit to Nick Montgomery and his staff that he has produced a side of such excellence while also bringing through wave after wave of young local talent through the ranks, serving not only the Central Coast community but the national side as well.
I’ll leave you with Joey Lynch’s report from Parramatta. Catch you all soon.
There we have it. Against all odds an extraordinary night for Central Coast Mariners and the A-League.
Vukovic accepts the championship trophy, makes his way in front of the massed ranks of the CCM team, and raises the toilet seat to the sky as the heavens open with confetti.
Finally, Danny Vukovic accepts his winner’s medal and takes to the microphone to offer his commiserations to Melbourne City, share his pride in his team, and thank family and friends. As he does so an army of Mariners staff congregate around the presentation. Normally this is reserved solely for players, so it’s a wonderful sight to see such an extended group share in the moment.
The penultimate figure onto the stage is Nick Montgomery, who has his three children in tow. What an incredible job he’s done.
And now, to great cheers, come the Mariners, led by Brian Kaltack with a flag of Vanuatu tucked behind his ear.
The City squad are plodding dejectedly across the dais to collect their runners-up medals. There are some haunted looks on their faces. Understandably so. Three premierships in a row for only one championship.
Jason Cummings wins the Joe Marston medal
Of course he does. You can’t score a grand final hat-trick and not walk away with a bauble to go alongside the match ball.
Time for the presentation ceremony.
That did not play out at all as I expected. City were so open on the transition and were caught time and again by the intelligence of Tulio and Cummings centrally and the trickery and pace of Silvera and Nkololo in wider areas. The decision to start Reis at right-back backfired, and the commitment to selecting so many attackers denied O’Neill midfield support. It was a mystery why Vidosic opted not to use his bench more with his side chasing the game.
Danny Vukovic has seen it all with multiple teams over a long distinguished career, but even he’s struggling to hold back tears.
It means everything. Some youngsters in the team, young supporters, now winning grand finals, thousands of young kids there, boys and girls, inspired by our young players today.
Jason Cummings is speaking beautifully on the telly.
I don’t know what happened, we just beat the champions. We just beat them 6-1. But I’m not surprised, the team we have, the hunger of the boys, the togetherness, the family, the gaffer, wow, what a journey, man. I have been here a year and a half, and the gaffer has changed my life. My career was spiralling out of control and I have come here and I have felt… honestly, I’m lost for words.
I have never experienced anything like it. On the pitch, showing the belief, I have never had a manager believe in me like that. I’m just glad I repaid them today with a hat-trick in the grand final. We are going to party tonight, I tell you that!
Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” reverberates around Commbank Stadium as CCM players and fans soak up the most extraordinary night. Melbourne City’s players look shellshocked.
The most incredible night for Central Coast Mariners. A Jason Cummings hat-trick. A Sammy Silvera masterclass. The culmination of an extraordinary piece of work from Nick Montgomery. Absolutely magnificent.
Full-time: Melbourne City 1-6 Central Coast Mariners
The Central Coast Mariners are A-League champions!
GOAL! Melbourne City 1-6 Central Coast Mariners (Moresche 90+1)
This is farcical. Theoharous wins the ball in midfield, dribbles to the edge of the box and shapes to shoot twice before being closed down. The ball breaks to Moresche who steps inside O’Neill and smashes a finish wide of Glover. The most unexpected rout in A-League history is complete.
90 mins: The camera cuts to Scott Jamieson, who looks destined to end his Melbourne City career as club captain and record appearance holder but without a run-on in the grand final.
89 mins: Tulio hauls down Berenguer for a booking nobody could care less about.
87 mins: The crowd is announced at 26,523, most of them presumably overjoyed with what they’ve seen. This trip to NSW will stick in the craw of Melbourne City.
85 mins: What a night.
GOAL! Melbourne City 1-5 Central Coast Mariners (Nkololo, 84)
Unbelievable. Nisbet mops up in midfield and carries the ball downfield with poise. He offloads to Silvera who stands up the City back four and unfurls a majestic assist with the outside of his right boot, curling the ball temptingly into the path of Nkololo who thumps an unmarked header past the helpless Glover. This is beyond the wildest dreams of anyone in Gosford.
81 mins: Vidosic is clearly happy with his attacking options on the field, despite his side’s deficit. Lam almost pops up as an unlikely scorer but his left-footed snapshot following a corner is dragged wide.
80 mins: The Mariners are working so hard off the ball to chase down every sky blue jersey and put a foot in or get a body in the way. It’s gritty and diligent and shows great team spirit.
79 mins: Tilio goes into Beath’s book for a cynical foul on Nkololo in transition after City were crowded out of a half chance in the box.
77 mins: City need a miracle but they’re running out of inspiration. Talbot tries to jink his way down the right but there’s a yellow wall in his way.
A couple more subs for the Mariners with Steele and Hall coming on for Balard and Roux.
75 mins: Melbourne City careering towards a third grand final defeat in four years. And this one will sting enormously.
74 mins: Only the second man to score a grand final hat-trick (after Archie Thompson) Jason Cummings has secured his place in A-League history in his final appearance.
GOAL! Melbourne City 1-4 Central Coast Mariners (Cummings, 72)
Jason Cummings has a hat-trick in the A-League grand final! The first was low to Glover’s right, the second high to the keeper’s left. Nervless penalty taking from the Cumdog. The Mariners are going to do it. They’re going to bloody do it!
Chris Beath awarded the spot-kick on the field. It is being reviewed by VAR but doesn’t look like it will be overturned. Cummings has a chance for a hat-trick…
PENALTY! (Central Coast Mariners)
… and the first thing the substitute does is handle the ball in the box, sliding to block a cross from Farrell the left. It is all going Pete Tong for Melbourne City.
69 mins: City return to their side-to-side passing moves but can’t identify any penetration. Nabbout goes on a run but runs out space quickly.
The premiers make an odd substitution with Talbot replacing Reis at the back.
67 mins: Lam strides out of defence like Beckenbauer for the second time tonight. He feeds Nabbout on the right but his cross doesn’t beat the first man and van der Venne can’t keep the move alive. Things are not working out for City.
GOAL! Melbourne City 1-3 Central Coast Mariners (Cummings, 65)
Jason Cummings restores the two-goal cushion! The Mariners haven’t had a sniff all half but they take full advantage of their one opportunity, Cummings sending Glover the wrong way to send the crowd wild.
PENALTY! (Central Coast Mariners)
Dear oh dear. Andrew Nabbout just whacks the substitute Farrell with a wild hoick of his right boot and concedes a stonewall penalty. Great skill preceding it by Silvera, but that was awful from the Socceroo.
63 mins: Speaking of subs, Montgomery makes his first change of the night with McGarry making way for Farrell.
62 mins: City grind to keep the ball alive in attack down the right but there’s a lack of cohesion on that side. Nabbout would be an easy player to substitute with City chasing the game.
60 mins: Finally some respite. A City foul on halfway allows the Mariners to slow the game down and then enjoy a rare spell of possession. It ends with Tulio offside on the run, but the assistant referee takes an age to raise his flag. It’s been a theme all night.
58 mins: City are pressing the life out of the Mariners and O’Neill thinks he’s forced the turnover but Beath adjudges there’s a foul instead and CCM escape. The Mariners are only just holding on here, shorn of their transitional out ball of the first half.
56 mins: Off the line! Nabbout is in acres on the right in transition. He slips the ball through to van der Venne who nicks the ball beyond Vukovic but without the force to beat the covering Triantis. The Mariners haven’t had a sniff all this half. Can City convert their pressure?
54 mins: City are pushing. Maclaren does superbly to release Nabbout on the right. The ball is slow to reach the box and eventually make its way through to Bos who has to bide his time while the ball drops and eventually his effort from 8 metres out is heroically blocked by Roux.
Soon after Leckie rattles the right-hand upright with a fierce half-volley on the run!
53 mins: City are moving the ball around confidently, evading the CCM press. Eventually they work it to Tilio on the half-turn but he overhits his through-ball to Maclaren.
52 mins: City can’t make any use of their second corner of the night, but they keep the ball alive outside the box and continue their dominance of possession this half.
51 mins: And that is a case in point from Kaltak, poking the ball clear from Leckie with the Socceroo flyer set to burst clear.
Meanwhile Triantis is the first Mariner in the book tonight for a foul on O’Neill.
50 mins: This half has all been played near the Mariners’ box so far, but the Central Coast defence has held its shape and intervened smartly when required.
48 mins: Lovely interplay on the left by Leckie and Tilio but the latter’s cross doesn’t find a blue shirt. This half much more circumspect so far.
46 mins: City on the front early in the second half but it’s slow and scrappy as the two teams bid to regain their momentum.
The teams are back out in Parramatta. The second half will be underway shortly.
Half-time: Melbourne City 1-2 Central Coast Mariners
One of the most entertaining halves in grand final history. End-to-end, action packed, great goals, brilliant saves, loads to enjoy.
45+4 mins: City enjoy another one of those phases of possession. This time it ends with a curious free-kick conceded off the ball by the run of Nabbout into the block of Silvera.
45+2 mins: Glover again to the rescue for City! Another ball over the top catches out the sky blue back four. Tulio holds it up and feeds Nkololo on the burst into the box but with only the keeper to beat Glover stretches out a boot to repel the ball downfield. The Mariners could easily have had five this half.
45 mins: The first yellow card of the night goes to Nuno Reis for a needless sliding challenge through the back of Silvera deep in the CCM half. That was an old school reducer that back in the day would be seen as fair game. Not any more, quite rightly.
43 mins: Tilio wriggles his way into space in midfield and finds van der Venne in acres advancing towards the box. With options left and right the goalscorer tries to chip an audacious second but makes a mess of his attempt, much to the annoyance of his well=placed teammates.
42 mins: This has been rollicking good fun.
GOAL! Melbourne City 1-2 Central Coast Mariners (van der Venne, 40)
City strike back! Good does brilliantly in an advanced position to squeeze a pass through to Maclaren. The skipper is one-on-one with Vukovic but eschews the shot in favour of a pullback to van der Venne. It’s not an easy ball to control but the substitute reacts with a brilliant instinctive finish to drag his side back into this contest. Game on!
37 mins: Lam thumps a 30 metre free-kick straight into the Central Coast wall. It caught the leaping Nkololo flush in the chops, which allows everyone to take a breather, replay the highlights of the two goals, and listen to the Mariners fans in full voice.
36 mins: That was superb from Silvera. He is such a talent, and that is a clear demonstration of what he can deliver when he’s on song. Reis at right-back looks a liability.
GOAL! Melbourne City 0-2 Central Coast Mariners (Silvera, 34)
The Mariners are in dreamland! Cummings works hard to retain possession 35m out from goal. He feeds Silvera who ghosts past Reis with a turn of speed that leaves the Portuguese in quicksand. From there he glides into the box and calmly sidefoots an unerring finish into the far corner. Brilliant individual goal.
33 mins: Maclaren smashes a snapshot miles wide after O’Neill drives into the box following a forward press turnover. City are back on the front foot, but that counts for little while the Mariners are ahead on the scoreboard.
32 mins: City are set up well to play like that with Leckie floating behind Maclaren, and Tilio, Bos and O’Neill adept at keeping the ball alive.
30 mins: The first slow phase of play of the night sees City work the ball around in triangles on the left. Eventually, Lam lets fly from downtown but his pile driver skids just wide of Vukovic’s right upright.
28 mins: Lam does incredibly well to step out and rob Silvera and stride downfield with purpose. He invites Nabbout to cross from the right but the delivery is woeful.
26 mins: Of course, as soon as I type that they have their best chance of the night. There’s acres of space in midfield for van der Venne to find O’Neill, who feeds Tilio on the left. The winger steps inside and lines up a right footed shot that’s straight at Vukovic. This is such an unfamiliar, open, end-to-end transitional match.
25 mins: Now Triantis has a half-chance at the near post with City napping. The premiers have disappeared after their bright opening spell.
24 mins: It’s nearly two! Tulio has a double chance, first getting on the outside of Reis and forcing Glover into a terrific save, then sending the rebound through the keeper’s legs but across the face of goal and wide. Central Coast attack like greased lightning and City are unable to keep pace in transition.
22 mins: To make matters worse for City, Berisha has been ruled unfit to continue. Richard van der Venne comes on in his place.
GOAL! Melbourne City 0-1 Central Coast Mariners (Cummings, 20)
The Mariners take the lead! Lovely one-touch passing to free Nkololo down the right. He teases Bos, biding his time to find space to centre the ball. His cross finds Cummings on the penalty spot. The first effort is blocked. The second falls nicely to the Cumdog who stabs a shot beyond Tom Glover. Commbank Stadium erupts.
18 mins: Play is stopped for a couple of minutes to allow Berisha to gather his breath. He looks ok to continue, for now.
16 mins: An old fashioned ball in the right channel from Reis to Nabbout sets up the first corner of the night. Berisha’s set piece is a bit floaty and overhit. A blue shirt goes down in the box but there’s little claim of a penalty. Ooof! From the second ball there is another blue shirt down – Berisha – and this time it’s more serious. A hopeful lump into the box became a 50-50 between the City midfielder and Danny Vukovic with the Mariners keeper taking man and ball with a heck of a thump. No suggestion of foul play whatsoever, just a mighty collision.
14 mins: Berisha is having a bit of a ‘mare out there, racking up the error count and coming off second best to Nisbet in midfield. Nkololo then gets a chance to run at Reis inside the box but the experienced defender stands firm.
12 mins: This final is being played at a cracking pace with both teams eager to get the ball forward quickly. The Mariners have now settled after City’s early sorties. Their passing out from the back is confident and ambitious, a real credit to Montgomery and the coaching staff.
10 mins: Massive chance for the Mariners! Berisha gets caught in midfield and Central Coast have a two on two. The through-ball from Tulio is weighted perfectly for Cummings but Glover is out smartly to smother and Good hacks clear off the line. Huge moment.
9 mins: City have now got into their flow and are dictating play. Glover sets up the latest move with some neat footwork in the right corner but after the ball is clipped through the lines there’s no end product. Tilio again looks dangerous in transition, finding space on the turn.
7 mins: The first piece of magic of the final comes from Marco Tilio, accelerating out of defence with the ball and feeding Jamie Maclaren. The City skipper can’t fashion a chance but the build up play was superb. Tilio also did well to stay on his feet and save Balard from a booking for a blatant drag back of the shirt. Not long afterwards Tilio has the first shot of the night, but it’s easy for Vukovic low to his left.
6 mins: The crowd is firmly on the side of the Mariners. Every Central Coast attack is greeted with cheers. Every City error with jeers.
4 mins: Triantis wins an aerial duel with Tilio on halfway, but such was the height advantage after the leap his arm followed through into the City player’s head. A free-kick suffices. It’s all a bit frantic in these early exchanges, as you might expect, but City look the likelier, zipping the ball at pace between the lines.
2 mins: City get the ball down first and immediately look to Andrew Nabbout on the right. That front three of Socceroo quality will be hard for the Mariners to handle. At the other end, in the battle of the youngsters, Bos gets an early win in a foot race with Silvera.
The A-League Men grand final is underway!
I say almost. Fully ten minutes after the scheduled kick-off time the host broadcaster has just cut to an ad break.
The Welcome to Country has been delivered, national anthem sung, it’s almost time for some football.
The teams walk out onto Commbank Stadium, Melbourne City in sky blue with white trim, the Mariners in yellow and navy.
For what it’s worth, I’m picking City to calmly execute a routine 2-0 victory and Marco Tilio to jink his way to the Joe Marston Medal.
Conditions in Parramatta should play no factor in the grand final. It’s mild and dry in western Sydney. Who knows what the final crowd figure is going to be – or how many of them are paid ticket-holders – but there appears much more support for the home-state Mariners than the premiers.
City finished 11 points clear of the Mariners on the ladder, but there was little separating them in their two contests. City won 1-0 at home in December, before the grand finalists played out a 1-1 draw in Gosford in April.
Central Coast haven’t come out on top in this head-to-head since February 2021.
It will be a bittersweet night for referee Chris Beath. The Queenslander takes charge of his fourth grand final in a row, in the process extending his record of A-League matches officiated. However, it will also be the final time the 38-year-old will oversee an A-League clash with the veteran announcing his retirement earlier this week.
Coming off the back of a record breaking Socceroos performance in Qatar, you could have been forgiven for thinking Australian football was primed to take a leap forward. Alas not. And the decision to sell hosting rights to the grand final to NSW shortly after the World Cup has played its part in continuing the divide between supporters and administrators that has held the game back for decades.
Joey Lynch filed the following last December:
Ten days. That’s how long it has been since Australia played Argentina in the World Cup’s last 16; a week and a half since Garang Kuol came within a whisker of sending the game into extra-time. Now, Lionel Messi and co are bound for a World Cup final, while Australian football has descended into a resentful civil war that is threatening to irreparably sever the relationship between the A-Leagues and its most devoted supporters.
Two days on from the initial announcement, the furore surrounding the Australian Professional Leagues’ (APL) move to sell hosting rights for the next three men’s and women’s grand finals to Sydney shows no signs of abating. If anything, it’s getting worse.
To put it politely, I’m not sold on the host broadcaster’s delivery.
*Cut to Nothing, rubbing its hands and grinning like Jose Mourinho with a cunning plan*
Today’s match may the last time we ever enjoy Jordan Bos in the A-League, with the talented fullback demonstrating once again the upside of the CFG business model.
While the Mariners have caught the public’s imagination with their run to the grand final, City have been quietly efficient. But, as Joey Lynch writes, the lack of media coverage or wider interest in the A-League has meant their incredible success has flown under the radar.
No team in the 18 years of ALM has ever ended the regular season atop the mountain in back-to-back-to-back years. The feat has only ever been accomplished once before in Australian men’s national league history, when Sydney City won three straight between 1980 and 1982 in the National Soccer League. It is one of the greatest feats of consistent excellence in Australian football history.
Joey Lynch commends Nick Montgomery for his role rejuvenating the ailing Mariners.
Over the course of two seasons, Nick Montgomery has become a coach who will not only give young players minutes, but actively give them scope to impact games and take on responsibility. His team works hard for each other, operates with unified intent in attack and defence, and possesses players that want to receive and operate with the ball in tight areas. Collectively, they play some of the best football in the league.
The renaissance of the Mariners has been the feel-good story of the season. They will surely be the neutrals’ choice tonight. David Squires illustrates why.
Central Coast Mariners XI
Six Mariners were named in the recently announced A-League Team of the Season, a list headed by leading goalscorer and one-man hype machine Jason Cummings (who just let slip on the pregame TV coverage that this will probably be his last game in yellow). Goalkeeper Danny Vukovic was not among that half-dozen, but the skipper’s big-game experience will be vital to his side’s chances. Whatever happens it’s a night of celebration for Brian Kaltak, the defender playing with the backing of the island nation of Vanuatu.
Melbourne City XI
Golden boot winner Jamie Maclaren spearheads an unchanged City side full of A-League quality. Aiden O’Neill and Marco Tilio have played their way into Socceroos contention, while Andrew Nabbout and Matthew Leckie are proven match-winners at this level.
However, it’s a pair of left fullbacks at opposite ends of their careers that deserve special mention. Scott Jamieson, club captain and appearance record holder, will turn out for the final time in his decorated career before retirement, while 20-year-old Jordan Bos is heading to Westerlo in Belgium’s Pro League for a new A-League transfer record.
Joey Lynch sets the scene for a grand final played against a backdrop of infighting in Australian football. For a change.
Heading into this weekend’s ALM decider between Melbourne City and Central Coast Mariners, though, ill feeling towards league administrators remains stubbornly persistent. It may not be as visceral as the riotous fury of six months ago, but a day out from the first men’s title decider under the deal, it is still deep-seated and contemptuous.
Hello everybody and welcome to live coverage of the A-League Men grand final between Melbourne City and Central Coast Mariners. Kick-off at Commbank Stadium is 7.45pm AEST.
Most sporting competitions reach grand final day at the height of anticipation, overflowing with goodwill, celebrating all that is good in whatever season is about to conclude. Not the A-League. Nuh huh. That’s just not how things roll in these parts.
Instead, we have an unpopular and unsolicited break with tradition which sees the premiers travelling interstate for a championship decider, to the dismay of plenty and the delight of almost no-one. This was the inevitable outcome of the Sydney-based A-League’s partnership with Tourism NSW guaranteeing the men’s and women’s grand finals be hosted in the harbour city for three years.
Defending the move at the time, APL boss, and former Sydney FC CEO, Danny Townsend said, “we’re not going to get everything right, but this one we believe is in the best interest of the long-term sustainability of the league and its major event strategy”.
On the field the grand final shapes as the quintessential David v Goliath battle. Underdogs Central Coast have shown plenty of pluck in the past couple of seasons, reversing a decade-long slump, unearthing some of the country’s most promising youngsters, and reminding everyone of the value of community clubs in small markets. But they will have to upset the odds to unseat City Football Group’s Melbourne outpost, who are into their fourth grand final in a row, to complement their hat-trick of premierships.