End of an era

The Lawrie McKinna-era will come to an end for the Central Coast Mariners on Friday night in Wellington, but the affable Scotsman is delighted to have left his position with the club in much better shape then when he started.

The Lawrie McKinna-era will come to an end for the Central Coast Mariners on Friday night in Wellington, but the affable Scotsman is delighted to have left his position with the club in much better shape then when he started.

McKinna will assume the role of football and commercial operations manager from next Monday after opting to pass the baton onto Graham Arnold and move 'upstairs'. While season 2009-10 hasn't finished in a manner he would have preferred, the gloss hasn't come off the giant strides made by the Mariners' foundation coach.

Central Coast made three finals series under McKinna, including two Grand Finals, and with a bit of luck he could have guided them to championship glory having lost those two deciders 1-0 to Sydney and Newcastle respectively in 2006 and 2008.

He built the success of the club on a model of stability, which enabled him to get the most out of his squad of talented and hard-working players. As opposed to the club to their south, the Mariners never pitched themselves as being glamorous.

While the club had the opportunity to avail itself of the marquee system, enabling them to pay a player outside the salary cap, they utilised this sparingly, with Tony Vidmar the only player in this category over the five years McKinna was in charge.

Several players, including Michael Beauchamp and Mile Jedinak, used the club as a launching pad for careers in Europe, which is further testament to McKinna's ability to not only to spot talent but develop it.

He said after it was announced he would leave the coaching job that he had always felt obliged to break away from the Scottish stereotype and play attacking and innovative football. He certainly did that with Central Coast featuring in some of the most memorable matches in the Hyundai A-League's short history.

However, as good as his achievements were on the field, McKinna and his boss, Mariners executive chairman Lyall Gorman achieved even more off the field. Faced with a relatively small market to build a club in, with Sydney to the south and Newcastle to the north, a strong community connection was vital to the club's survival.

McKinna's personality and passion were keys to the club becoming one of the most successful at community engagement of any club in the league. The Mariners have engrained themselves in the mindset of the Central Coast in just five years and the community feels a sense of ownership of the club.

The club, under McKinna and Gorman's guidance, also managed to forge an association with Sheffield United in England, with an off-field and on-field arrangement enabling development of the club and its players. Six weeks ago, the club announced it would set up a Centre of Excellence at Tuggerah to aid in the development of young talent and attract potential players to the club.

McKinna has helped set-up these opportunities and now he wants to be the one to ensure that the club capitalises on its chance to become an Australian football powerhouse. The appointment of Arnold as coach allows McKinna to follow that dream, while still having a say in on-field affairs.

So while he will no longer pace the touchline, and scream and shout and give a cheeky grin to the cameras when things are going the Mariners' way, McKinna will still be very much at the heart of the Mariners.