Simon has come a long way

One of the most important aspects of being a topline coach is having the ability to identify talent.

One of the most important aspects of being a topline coach is having the ability to identify talent.

Picking out a player and helping them develop into first-team stars is a vital skill for any coach.

One of the great achievements of Central Coast Hyundai A-League coach Lawrie McKinna during his four years at the helm of the Mariners is the rise of young striker Matt Simon.

From park footballer to Socceroos squad member in less then three years, Simon has enjoyed a rapid rise to the top.

And McKinna can take a major share of the credit for his development.

It was during a Central Coast Premier League grand final when McKinna first noticed Simon.

Although his team, East Gosford, lost the match on penalties, Simon's non-stop style and goalpoaching instincts stood out.

"I can still remember that night," McKinna said.

“He showed speed, strength and just didn't stop running the whole game. I could see then that he was very raw but he had something. I always thought he could make it in the Hyundai A-League because he is such a handful for defenders."

Fast forward four years and Simon is now one of the first players picked for the Mariners. In seven games this season he has netted five goals to be the equal top scorer in the competition.

His latest eye-catching performance came as the Mariners came from three goals down to snare a 3-3 draw with Adelaide on Friday night. Simon latched on to a ball from Nigel Boogaard in the 84th minute and rounded the goalkeeper to bring the Mariners level.

"Last year Matty made us a few goals and this year he's scoring them," McKinna said.

While delighted with the development of Simon, McKinna admits the youngster still has a long way to go.

"One of the best things about Matt is that he listens at training and takes things into games," McKinna said.

"He's improved so much and he'll only get better."

Simon was always confident he had the ability to make a mark in the Hyundai A-League.

Before securing a full-time contract with the Mariners he gave up an apprenticeship and trained for several months without pay.

"I was just after a chance and thankfully the Mariners gave me that," Simon said.

"I'm really happy with how things are going but I've still got a lot of improving to do."

Simon's outstanding rise has not gone unrewarded. Not only is he a key member of the Mariners title charge, he also played for the Qantas under-23s at this year's Beijing Olympics and was selected in an extended Socceroos squad by national coach Pim Verbeek last week.

He missed selection in the final squad but is well and truly on the radar of national selectors.

Simon will be out to net his sixth Hyundai A-League goal when the fourth-placed Mariners host Wellington on Sunday week.