Anyone else would say it's a big month for the Central Coast Mariners, but Graham Arnold is trying to take the heat off the league leaders as they search for another Premier's Plate.
When a season reaches its climax, there-s that point where you scan the fixtures and you start to salivate, just a little bit. Those games you could have missed become vital, and the big games become utterly compelling. When the season-s at stake, the drama turns up to an 11.
Graham Arnold is doing his best to turn the volume down. The Mariners coach loves to fly under the radar, somewhat incongruously for a man whose team is in a strong position to claim a second successive premiership.
But there-s no hiding for the Mariners over the next four weeks. Melbourne Victory head to Gosford this weekend, followed by Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the AFC Asian Champions League on Wednesday night, then Western Sydney Wanderers the following Saturday, then Sydney FC the week after that.
The Hyundai A-League league leaders will be on the radar of every football fan in the country. But still Arnold tries to deflect the attention.
“Everyone-s got a big month, not only us,” the Mariners boss says. “The way the table is, there-s pressure on every team right down to Wellington. If they win two in a row they-re back in the top six.
“OK, we-ve got a lot of games but the players are fit and healthy. With Victory we-ve got a four day turnaround, there-ll be minimal training from now on. It-s about recovery after Saturday and touching on tactics, different game plans for different opposition.”
The quick turnaround might mean minimal maintenance for the players, but for Arnold and his coaching staff, the battle plans have to be well-prepared. There are too many variables to call this period season-defining but it-s certainly the point where months of preparation come to the fore as the club navigate through the punishing schedule.
“I-ve already been looking at Suwon but at the moment I-m concentrating on Victory,” Arnold says as his team finish up another training session in Tuggerah.
“The hardest thing is a two-day turnaround before Western Sydney. It would have been good if FFA had looked at the draw and let us play Western Sydney on a Sunday for 24 hours extra to recover. We-re the only team left in the ACL and hopefully we can perform well to do the A-League proud but it-s a difficult draw.”
Australian clubs- problematic relationship with the Champions League has been well documented; the strain on the resources and disjointed playing schedule continues to make life difficult. But with Central Coast so far failing to make a real impact in Asia, Arnold says the competition remains a serious goal for the club - after the league.
“It-s no secret my first priority is the premiership, to get to the last 16 of the ACL, and then the grand final - they-re our goals for this season.
“My first priority is to put in a good performance against Melbourne victory. I want a reaction from last weekend; our performance against Perth wasn-t good. But it-s a footballer-s passion to play big games, and when you play big opposition there-s no motivation needed, it comes from within”
Convincing local supporters to turn out for midweek games has proven a tough task for all clubs competing in Asia but Arnold says he-s proud of the Bluetongue crowd, and says the upcoming domestic games should encourage bigger numbers.
“Our crowds have been very good this year. We-re only a small community and we-re averaging over 10k, which is good. Look at Sydney and how many people they have and Del Piero, and they-re only getting 13-15.
“We-ve turned Bluetongue into a real fortress. Our record at home this year is eight wins and one draw from nine games. It-s not an easy place to come but over the last two-and-a-half years the supporters have got noisier and we-ve had some great nights this year, like the 7-2 win over Sydney. They-ve got every reason to come.”
That potential premiership repeat, for instance. With the Wanderers breathing down their necks, Central Coast need a good result against a Melbourne Victory side hurting after two consecutive losses. And Arnold knows there is a long way to go yet.
“I don-t pay any attention to what goes on further down the table. I challenged the team to get 52 points this year - we got 51 last year. I don-t know if it-s enough to win the championship but if we get 52 as quick as we can we can address what else we need to do.
“But there are plenty more twists and turns before the end of the season. We-ve got victory, then western Sydney, then Sydney FC after that... But it-s better when it-s like this. I enjoy watching games rather than training sessions. And I know the players do. There are only six games to go and everyone is like a final for every team.”