Nothing fazes Golden Boot winner Daniel McBreen. Not the Wanderers defence, the Red and Black Bloc or a mob of autograph hunters.
Daniel McBreen can-t get away. No matter which way he turns, he can-t find that little bit of space he needs to break away from the pack. But he doesn-t mind - all they want is an autograph or a photo.
It-s the Thursday before the Grand Final and the Mariners are holding an open training session, inviting fans to come and spend some time with the players as they prepare for Sunday-s decider. And it-s packed. It-s yellow and blue everywhere.
McBreen finishes his short time with the media scrum, only to turn into another crowd, only this one is holding pens and posters, rather than iPhones and recorders.
The striker spends almost half an hour happily signing whatever-s put in front of him, and smiling consistently for the kids who are made up by the chance to meet the Hyundai A-League-s top scorer. And he-s glad they-re here.
“It-s quality,” he says when we-re able to grab five quiet minutes (even though the fans still hover nearby).
“A lot of people give our crowds stick saying there are not a lot at the games but we-ve got the smallest catchment area but these guys are so loyal and passionate about it. We-ve got a different dynamic to other areas because we-ve got a lot of kids and families and the older generation, so for them to turn out every week, it-s awesome.”
The big turnout is a huge boost to the Mariners squad ahead of the game against Western Sydney, and their well-documented and highly vocal supporter base. The Central Coast might not shout as loud as the Red and Black Bloc but that doesn-t mean they-re not just as supportive of their local team.
And even with Wanderers said to have snapped up around three-quarters of the tickets on offer, it doesn-t mean the Mariners will be even slightly overawed by the noisy opposition on Sunday. Daunted? Far from it, says McBreen. Bring it on.
“A lot of media have been asking if it-s going to be hard playing in front of the Wanderers fans - that-s what you play for!
“They lift both teams. As a sportsperson you want to play in front of crowds like that, that are vocal and give it a bit atmosphere. As much as they give them a lift, they give us a lift as well because the atmosphere is so great.
"It-s not intimidating. Most of guys have played overseas where it-s a lot more intimidating, it-s just enjoyable, so we-ll make the most of it.”
Not that McBreen or his teammates have any reason to feel anxious.
Despite losing the minor premiership to their Grand Final opposition, the Mariners have taken on all-comers this season and almost always come out on top.
The line coming out of the Central Coast camp this week goes something along the lines of, ‘we-re relaxed, we-re treating it like just another game-.
Normally this would come across as a deflection of the pressure but it feels genuine at the club-s Tuggerah training ground.
The fan day has, at the very least, taken the players- minds off training and the constant questions about having to face the Wanderers and their equally constrictive defence. Not that McBreen seems worried.
“We-ve shown against them in the last two games that we can create chances if we stick to our game plan.
“We know they-re going to find us hard to break down, with our defence as well; two like-minded teams where we work on defensive structure and build from there from a transition into attack.”
A lot of the narrative this week has focused on the two defences, the two meanest in the competition. But it-s also the team structures that have a lot in common, the defend-from-front mentality where opposition players are denied the time on the ball.
“Three years I-ve been here with Arnie now and for three years he-s said defence isn-t about the back four or six; it-s about the whole 11. He-s always had the idea defence starts with the guys upfront.
“Playing upfront in a team like this isn-t relaxing because you-re working so hard to keep a tight defensive unit. If the guys upfront switch off, that leaves room for the opposition to move through. It-s a defensive unit, not just the back four. We work hard up top to try and win the ball back.
"Hopefully we can do that a couple of times on Sunday and try to create something from it.”
And if there is an opportunity created, you can bet McBreen will be there in a flash, matching the Wanderers physical strength and generally being a nuisance as he chases that half-chance.
He-s scored all sorts of goals this season, from tap-ins to the bullet that put the Mariners into the final at the expense of Melbourne Victory.
No one would have tipped the 36-year-old as the Golden Boot winner at the start of the season but it-s a credit to McBreen-s tenacity and the Mariners- set-up that he-s been terrorising defences all year.
You can-t buy that kind of confidence and the effect is has on both your team and the opposition.
“It-s been a great year for me,” McBreen admits, but I can-t do that without the team behind me. If the team-s not creating any chances then you don-t score any goals. It-s a testament to the boys and the staff, the work we-ve done, that I-m getting in the position to score those goals. I can-t praise the enough.”
Again, it-s not a deflection tactic but an illustration of the humility and team ethic the Mariners possess. It-s down to the other boys, it-s just another game, it-s just an award… Speaking of which, where is that Golden Boot?
“It-s in my garage,” McBreen laughs. “It was a great personal achievement to get it but we-ve got the in-laws over at the moment so it got shunted into the garage straight away.”