Mariners continue to impress Montgomery

Nick Montgomery is not a marquee signing, but his graft and skill, which often go unnoticed have been key to a Mariners side he rates highly.

In a season of big-name signings that have continued to raise football-s profile for the general public, the flow of less well-known imports has continued; players attracted by our rising standards - that of the A-League and of living.

As the A-League matures into a competition with its own unique character, so the attraction for players from leagues of a comparable standard increases.

After 12 years with Sheffield United playing in the English Championship and, for one brief season, the Premier League, the opportunity for Central Coast Mariners midfielder Nick Montgomery to try something new was too hard to resist.

Like so many people in and out of football, Montgomery, now 31, reached a point where he needed a new challenge and the Mariners- corporate ties to the Blades (director Kevin McCabe is also the Sheffield United chairman) opened the door.

Now the Leeds-born midfielder has the beach at his door and a club that is fighting for trophies on every front possible. And Montgomery-s aware that he-s probably timed his arrival to perfection.

“I spoke to a few lads that had played in the A-League,” he tells, “and they raved about the lifestyle and Australia as a place to live.

“But the league this season has been the best since it started so I-m fortunate I-ve come out at a time when it-s gone through that transition of making the league competitive and the structure of the league is probably at its best.

“The A-League this year has been a big success, with players like Del Piero and Heskey and that can only help get more big names out here and getting more kids playing football.”

Montgomery has also been able to get a taste of more than just the local game, thanks to the Mariners participation in the AFC Champions League. Despite the club-s struggle to remain competitive against Asian club-s with much greater resources, the Englishman says it-s been a great experience - even if the competition hasn-t quite caught on with local crowds.

“I-m really enjoying the ACL, going to countries like China and Japan, Korea, playing those teams. I-m not used the travel but it-s ok, it does take a bit out of you but you do get to see different places and cultures.

“I did expect a few more fans to be coming to the games. Obviously the Champions League in Europe is huge and people fight to get a ticket to any game. You-re playing champions from other countries all the elite teams in the Asian region, so I find that a bit strange.”

But on a domestic front, Montgomery admits to being more impressed - not just with the level of performance the team has achieved under coach Graham Arnold, but also with the standard across the competition.

“I-ve loved it over here. Arnie-s an intense manager and he wants the best from his players, even in training and that-s why he-s been so successful.

"He-s a good guy, he-s good with the players, he gives us a lot of responsibility and some of the football we-ve played has been fantastic. It-s enjoyable to play in a team that creates so many chances and loves to attack.

“I knew it was going to be a different type of game. In England I was more of a box-to-box midfielder but coming out here I wanted to fit into the way Arnie wants to play.

“He-s very tactical and organised and the midfielders, especially the two holders we play with, are more side-to-side but I-ve tried to adapt and feel I-ve done well.

“I-ve been really impressed with the A-League; there are some very good teams and some really good, technical players. It-s not as hard physically as in England, the games aren-t as fast but there are factors behind that with the heat and the way players have been brought up playing out from the back, and there-s not really any pressure on relegation or promotion.”

At a time when many are still debating the significance of premiership v grand final winner, it-s an interesting comparison. Montgomery has experienced the biggest knockout game in world football - the Championship playoffs to the Premier League (currently worth around $130m). But he-s been on the losing side both times, so understands all too well the chaotic nature of knockout finals football, even if the Australian format was initially confusing.

“The finals are exciting, it-s more like a cup competition,” Montgomery says.

“I found it hard when I got here that the team that wins the grand final is the champion whereas in most leagues in the world they would probably be a cup winner.

“The playoffs in England financially are very different; obviously winning promotion to the Premier League is worth so much money. I-ve lost twice after finishing third in the league so that-s something I always look back on with regrets but it-s not the same as in England because there is just so much more pressure on those games. But the grand final will be a fantastic experience.”

That last line is probably more throwaway than anything else but it does indicate that the Mariners- form dip late in the season hasn-t affected their confidence. And Montgomery believes the club-s ability to bounce back should be enough to see them through to the decider.

“We had a little patch where we lost a few points we shouldn-t have done,” he admits, “but consistently throughout the season, us and Western Sydney have been by far the best two teams.

“The good thing for me is when we-ve had a bad run run we-ve come back with a positive result and win games, so leading into the finals I think we-ve got a bit of momentum and looking forward to going out all guns blazing on Sunday.”