How a surfer from the Central Coast carved a place in history

It took Matt Hatch just 25 seconds to make his mark on Australian football, but his historic goal was 18 months in the making.

The 20-year-old was back in training on Tuesday morning at the Mariners’ recovery session, still just another member of the squad for all his internet-melting exploits the night before.

Officially the owner of the fast goal on debut in Australian men’s football history (just 25 seconds), Hatch won’t be allowed to forget that it should be just a milestone in a burgeoning career.

A year and a half ago, Hatch was told to make a decision. The surf-loving teen from Woy Woy – who a decade ago was a ball boy for his beloved Mariners in the Asian Champions League - had to decide whether he truly wanted to be a professional footballer. His goal on Monday night to seal a home win over Macarthur rather confirms the answer was “yes”.

The irony is that Hatch answers to the description of “left back”, but his speed – and apparent sense of how to shape history – saw him thrown up front by Mariners coach Alen Stajcic, to unsettle a tiring Macarthur defence.

It wasn’t the first time either. In last year’s NPL U20 grand final Hatch was also on the bench, and also thrown into the fray as an auxiliary forward. He also scored then too, twice in fact, to seal the U20 NPL title for the Mariners, and partly as a result has been training since with the first team.

The Mariners believe they have a crop of kids ready to step up. In that NPL U20 side were also Alou Kuol, who has taken the A-League by storm this season, and Max Balard who came off the bench against Macarthur too. It was telling that Hatch ran straight to Balard on the bench when he scored, and two more of that U20 team were a couple of metres away taking photos on their phones.

Mariners head of football Ken Schembri acknowledges ruefully that his club relies on breeding youngsters for budgetary reasons – with COVID forcing other clubs to follow suit, the kids are getting their chance to star all over the league.

“Those boys, including Matt, all have to do it the hard way – they have part-time jobs, and they’re playing NPL football to try to prove themselves,” said Schrembi.

“Matt’s mum, Sue, has been a really strong influence on him getting to this point. He can be a nervous boy, but scoring that goal should give him a bit of confidence in himself.”