THE way Gianni Stensness tells it, Mariners boss Alen Stajcic has been gardening for the past 12 months.
Digging out what Stensness calls “a few weeds”, and planting some exotic new varieties in the Central Coast soil, the results have produced a dramatic reflowering of the Mariners after years of pain.
From failures to finalists, the swagger is back on the Central Coast. Whatever happens from now this has been an incredible season for a side that had become mired in mediocrity.
But with a home final to come on Saturday night against Macarthur FC in front of the club’s biggest crowd for years, the diehards can dream of going further in the finals and of past success returning to Gosford.
At 22, Stensness has had a front-row seat for the giddying climb over the past year from coming bottom last season – and most other seasons since 2014 - to topping the competition for much of this campaign before finishing up third in the regular season.
It stems, he believes, from a variety of sources – Stajcic taking some hard-nosed decisions on changing personnel, and the players themselves taking ownership of their destiny.
“The things that make a team successful can be hard to put your finger on, but even at the end of last season I got the feeling that the coaches were putting things in place to make us far more competitive,” Stensness said.
“We had to stop the slump, we knew that. Staj has been with the team a while now and I think he took out some weeds – removed some personalities that maybe were stopping the team from functioning optimally.
“The result was that he created a really good group for this season. Then our strength and conditioning coach put a program in place to get us really fit, and it has shown in the lack of too many injuries.
“As a team we set ambitious goals at the start of the season – Champions League qualification basically, which means top two. Our process to achieve that was simply hard work, and when you have some early wins the confidence flows.”
The return of Socceroo Ollie Bozanic, a title winner with the Mariners in 2013, has been hailed in many quarters as the chief catalyst, but Stensness gives equal billing to the unexpected signing of Costa Rican striker Marco Urena.
“Ollie rightly gets a lot of credit as captain, and he has lifted the standards of everyone in training and across the board. The mentality has toughened.
“But while Marco isn’t maybe known for his leadership skills, he has incredible experience and knows what success looks like. He has put a lot of responsibility on everyone, even what he calls the ‘support’ players – those on the bench or in the squad.
“When they have been needed they have responded. I looked around the park last week ( in the win over Western United that confirmed the Mariners would have a home final) and by the end of it, only three players were over 23.”
Match details and ticketing information - Finals Series
Melbourne City v Lowest Ranked Elimination Final Winner
Sunday, June 20 2021
Kick-off: 4.05pm AEST
GRAND FINAL: Winner SF 1 v Winner SF2
Saturday, June 26 2021
Note: Fixtures are subject to change. Please check www.a-league.com.au/fixtures for latest updates
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