Road to the Finals: Will the Mariners stumble?

One year ago today, Central Coast Mariners stalled at the final hurdle as Brisbane Roar won of Australian sport's most dramatic grand finals. Will history repeat itself in 2012?

One year ago today, Central Coast Mariners stalled at the final hurdle as Brisbane Roar won of Australian sport's most dramatic grand finals. Will history repeat itself in 2012?

With the Premier's Plate up for grabs this weekend, the question is can the Mariners finally go all the way to the grand final and be crowned Hyundai A-League champions or will they choke when it matters most again?

Who do you think? Have your say below.

Yes, the Mariners will choke Professional sport is littered with teams and players that just couldn-t get themselves up in the big game and some of the names synonymous with choking are the biggest ever.

Namibian sprinter Frankie Fredericks never took home Olympic gold, nor has Asafa Powell. Greg Norman never could get over the hump at Augusta National and Carnoustie killed Jean van de Velde-s career.

More recently LeBron James has failed to deliver a championship ring and the Larry O-Brien trophy to both Cleveland and Miami, despite proclaiming he is the best since Michael Jordan (Kobe Bryant anyone)?

That is an esteemed group of chokers - and Central Coast Mariners look set to join them, as much as it pains me to say it.

I-m a Mariners fan and even I can see the writing is on the wall. The Mariners, despite Graham Arnold-s assertions to the contrary, are a team battling a crisis of confidence.

Their self-doubt is evident in everything they do right now and the final straw might just have been Mat Ryan-s howler against Perth that allowed Travis Dodd to steal in for a sneaky goal.

The Mariners have lost their once vice-like grip on the Premier-s Plate, Brisbane Roar are stalking them yet again, and on this very day last year, suffered their most painful choke to date.

Suncorp Stadium was packed to the rafters when the Mariners took a 2-0 lead in extra time, but Henrique, Erik Paartalu and everyone else knows what happened next, as the game went to a penalty shootout and Brisbane claimed their first title.

That was the Mariners- third grand final loss - they went down to Sydney FC in 2006 and to Newcastle 2008, after having claimed the Premier-s Plate.

They are the Hyundai A-League-s version of St Kilda, the nearly men of AFL; it-s just this season the Mariners- fear of the finals has started early. In their last 10 games they have won three, drawn three and lost four, with the most embarrassing of those being a 3-3 draw with Gold Coast and a loss to Melbourne Victory. Hardly the form of championship contenders.

The bottom line, the Mariners are fading faster than Patrick Swayze in Ghost. In their present form they can-t win the A-League and nor do they have the troops to do so.

Matt Simon might just be the biggest loss in the history of the club, with replacement John Sutton thus far has been a hoax at every turn. Aside from rising star Tom Rogic they look paralysed by fear and the Roar fans who have called them “Central choke Mariners” all year are set to be proved right.

No, the Mariners will go all the way Sports journalists love to talk about history. Why? Because it gives them something to fill the column inches when they haven-t got real evidence to back up their argument.

History means nothing to professional athletes. Any footballer will tell you, all they can do is focus on the task at hand. Look too far forwards or backwards and you-ll be nowhere.

The Mariners previous grand final losses have no affect on this season, the one where they are proving themselves to be the best team in the league.

They are just one win away from sewing up the Premier-s Plate for the second time in their history - not too shabby for the so-called smallest club in the league. Plenty of other A-League clubs would look at that record with envy.

Admittedly, their form has slipped alarmingly in recent weeks, which isn-t surprising given they sold two of their best players in Matt Simon and Rostyn Griffiths. The club-s finances might be in a better state but the loss of regular goals and their midfield anchor has had an obvious affect.

But why should anyone think the Mariners are set to fail yet again? They-ve proven they can beat any team in the league this season; dispose of ninth-placed Adelaide at Bluetongue this weekend and it-s stage one complete.

Then it-s a two-leg major semi-final against, probably, Brisbane Roar, who Graham Arnold knows better than anyone how to cope with. Can the Mariners defeat an in-form Roar? They-ve already done it once this season.

Even if they don-t, and they have to get to the grand final the long way around, the shared experience of last year-s dramatic decider gives the Mariners everything they need to make sure it doesn-t happen again.

The Mariners have been the most consistent team in the competition this season, and in the A-League, consistency means success.