‘That’s the reason I was brought to the club’: Birighitti fulfilling his duty as he stars for Mariners
Mark Birighitti was brought to the Central Coast by coach Alen Stajcic to become a leader in the squad, and so far he’s risen to the challenge.
The Mariners climbed off the bottom of the Hyundai A-League table last weekend on the back of Birighitti’s superhuman goalkeeping performance in their 1-0 win over Western United FC.
The much-fancied United couldn’t pierce a Mariners defence which hadn’t kept a clean sheet in the Hyundai A-League in their previous 38 games.
The drought-breaking result would never have happened if not for a string of top-shelf stops from Birighitti, who took his superb start to the season to another level and earned a spot in a-league.com.au’s Team of the Week for Round 7.
“It’s nice to get that donkey off our back,” Birighitti told a-league.com.au.
“I think it was 39 games (without a clean sheet). I was just happy to get that win and keep a clean sheet.
MATCH PREVIEW: Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners
“It’s great getting picked in Team of the Week, but it’s one game...there’s still another 20-odd games to go, that one is in the memory bank but I’ve moved on now, moved forward.
“Me personally, I try to play my part week in, week out and win the team as many points as possible.
“That’s the reason I was brought to the club: to pass my experience on to the playing group and (be) that leader at the back.”
Birighitti has played every minute of the Mariners’ Hyundai A-League 2019/20 campaign thus far and is relishing his key role in the side after his frustrating spell at Melbourne City last season.
“A big reason why I joined the Mariners was to play football and to play regular game time, and showcase my qualities and what I can do,” Birighitti said.
“For me it was a year wasted (at City) last year, but this is football...it can go for you and sometimes it can go against you.
“I’m loving football at the moment here on the Central Coast; it’s been a great start to the season personally.
“Obviously from a team perspective we’ve been doing well, we’d like to have a few more points on the board but we’re making progress and we’re on the right path under Alen Stajcic.
“I’m just enjoying football at the moment, I’m in a good headspace, I’m settling in really well here on the coast, it’s a nice place to live and a great club to be at.”
Settling in to his new surrounds after his off-season move to the Mariners was made easier for Birighitti by the prospect of reuniting with former goalkeeping coach Jess Vanstrattan.
Working under Vanstrattan at Newcastle Jets gave Birighitti the confidence and skillset required to launch into a successful four-year-stint in European football which the custodian says was a dream come true.
“He helped me get to Europe, he’s played a massive part in my career and it’s nice to be back working with him," Birighitti said of Vanstrattan.
“Spending four years overseas was fantastic, it’s every young footballer’s dream to go overseas and give it a crack in Europe and I was lucky enough to spend four years over there in England and Holland.
“(Vanstrattan) knows how to get the best out of me; I knew how important this year was for me moving forward and me making that next step.
“Not only him but also with Stajcic as well, speaking to him in pre-season before the season started about what he had in place and his objectives for this season, it was something that I wanted to be a part of.”
SQUAD NEWS: All the Ins and Outs ahead of Round 8
First and foremost on Stajcic’s off-season to-do list was to assemble a squad capable of reaching the Hyundai A-League finals - a feat the Mariners haven’t achieved since the 2013/14 campaign.
With three wooden spoons in the last four seasons, it was clear a defensive restructure was paramount.
Since his arrival Birighitti has not only bought into Stajcic’s plan for 2019/20 but led the way for the Mariners, making a league-high 33 saves throughout the first six games of the season.
His individual form has contributed to the Mariners’ overall positive start to the season which Birighitti says he’s desperate for his side to capitalise on.
“The club has bee through quite hard times in recent years, I think it’s four or five years without making finals, a couple of wooden spoons in there,” Birighitti said.
HOW TO WATCH: Every Hyundai A-League game in Round 8
“Five years, that’s just not good enough for any club, but obviously Staj has made it clear coming to the club that the club’s objective is to play finals football and win back the supporters.
“We’re looking to turn that around this year. That past has been forgotten about, it’s a fresh start this year and we keep chipping away.
“We’ve had two wins, one draw and a couple of losses but we really want to push hard, work hard as a team and try win as many points as possible so we can play finals football this season.
“Here on the coast we have such a passionate supporter base and to only get five, six thousand people to our home games is pretty disappointing, but it’s on us.
“It’s on the playing group and the club to perform well week in, week out and try and get as many wins as possible to win the fans back.
“Especially in my time in the A-League, when the club has been doing well on the coast and the supporters get behind the Mariners, it can be a fortress of a place to go to.
“That’s something the club is striving to get back to once again, but it will take time and it will take us winning games and getting as many points as possible.”
The challenges don’t get any easier for Birighitti and the Mariners as they head to Suncorp Stadium to face Brisbane on Saturday afternoon 5pm AEDT).
The Mariners leapt off the bottom of the table into sixth position after their win over Western United last weekend showing just how tightly contested the 2019/20 Hyundai A-League campaign has been so far.
It makes a win over the Roar – who sit just two points behind the Mariners – of vital importance to Stajcic’s side.
“It’s all so close. Before last weekend’s game we were last, we win the game against Western United and we’re back in the top six," Birighitti said.
“We had a fantastic win but that win on the weekend will count for nothing if we don’t pick up three points this weekend in Brisbane.
“We want to break away from the pack and create a bit of a gap between us and the teams below us.
“It’s not going to be easy...Brisbane are a great side, Robbie Fowler is doing a great job with them.
“They’ve got some real quality up top with Roy O’Donovan and (Aaron) Amadi-Holloway, so we’re going to have to be on our guard from minute one, we can’t afford to give them opportunities or sloppy goals because they can punish you.
“We’ve had a good week on the training pitch, we know where we can hurt them and exploit them, so come Saturday afternoon we’ll be firing and ready to go, to hopefully put in a good performance and take three points back to Gosford.”