Young Gun - Mathew Ryan

This time last season young goalkeeper Mathew Ryan was a third string shot-stopper at Central Coast and was focused on nothing more than establishing himself as a long-term prospect at the Mariners.

This time last season young goalkeeper Mathew Ryan was a third string shot-stopper at Central Coast and was focused on nothing more than establishing himself as a long-term prospect at the Mariners.

Now Ryan, 19, is one of the hottest young players in the country and earmarked for a long and distinguished career at the highest level.

Ryan is a perfect example of how to cash-in when given an unexpected opportunity.

Early last season Ryan received his shot at glory when Jess Vanstrattan suffered a season ending knee injury during a training session with the Mariners.

With Danny Vukovic and Andrew Redmayne moved on, Mariners coach Graham Arnold had little choice but to promote the rookie to the top team for a Round four showdown against Sydney. Arnold signed veteran Paul Henderson for cover but had no hesitation starting with the rookie.

Ryan starred from his opening Hyundai A-League game onwards and his form was a major factor in Central Coast's charge to a third grand final in six seasons and the Asian Champions League.

Now the challenge is to keep getting better as the Mariners strive to go all the way this season.

"Last year was a fairytale season for me, I loved every minute of it after I got my first chance,'' said Ryan, who was man of the match in the heartbreaking Grand Final defeat to Brisbane.

"But that's last season. I know I've still got a lot of improvement left in me and Arnie (Arnold) wants me to keep getting better.''

"You've always got to try and be better, it doesn't get any easier.''

So far this season Ryan has shown no signs of suffering the dreaded second-year syndrome - the inability of a talented youngster to duplicate the form of their first season in the top grade.

Ryan pulled off a string of strong saves in the round one defeat against Brisbane and it took a spectacular goal from Gold Coast's James Brown to beat the goalkeeper in the Mariners' 1-1 draw in round two.

He will be hoping for another assured performance between the sticks when the Mariners travel up the F3 Freeway to take on arch-rivals Newcastle on Sunday.

Ryan said the arrival of former North Queensland Fury goalkeeper Justin Pasfield keeps him on his toes.

"It's a good battle between us,'' Ryan said.

"He wants to play and so do I, it's good competition and that's what every team needs. He is still young so it's a good challenge for me.''

"He wants to start just as much as I do so I've got to keep training hard and playing well.''

Arnold said he was always confident Ryan had the talent to mark a mark quickly in the Hyundai A-League.

"One of the best things about him is his attitude, he's always looking at ways to get better and improve,'' Arnold said.

"Nothing comes easy and he knows that. If he keeps learning and working hard he has a long and successful career ahead of him."

Ryan had a major setback to deal with during the pre-season after a knee injury robbed him of a chance to represent Australia at the Under-20 World Cup.

"To miss a World Cup was disappointing,'' Ryan said.

"But I'm over that now and focused on the Mariners.''