1 on 1: Simon
He has the taste for success and the world at his feet.
It-s fair to say that Central Coast product Matt Simon has enjoyed a whirlwind few months.
Scoring a hat trick for the Qantas Under 23-s, becoming an Australian Olympian and netting a swag of Hyundai A-League goals, the Bluetongue Stadium favourite is in rare form and primed for an outstanding season in Australia-s top flight football competition.
Simon talks to www.ccmariners.com.au about the Chinese experience, the relief of his first Hyundai A-League goal and the new National Youth League.
Since we last spoke you have enjoyed a meteoric rise which has included regular games for the Qantas Under 23-s, how has that experience been?
It has been fantastic. Playing for any national side is a dream come true. It has been an amazing journey, especially playing over in Malaysia for the Qantas Under 23-s in the Intercontinental Cup. I was lucky enough to score a hat trick against the Republic of Ireland in the semi final and that was a huge thrill.
What was the Olympic Games experience like?
It still hasn-t sunk in yet, being able to call myself an Olympian. It exceeded my expectations and I initially didn-t think I would get any game time as I was picked as a travelling reserve. Just being exposed to that environment was amazing and being able to travel with the boys in a unique tournament. Unfortunately for Archie Thompson he got injured before our final group game against the Ivory Coast and I was lucky enough to be able to come on late in the match. The Olympics was a great experience.
You scored your first Hyundai A-League goal in Round 1 against the Newcastle Jets, how did it feel to get the monkey off your back?
I don-t actually recall too much about the actual goal. I had got off a plane from China that morning so I was running on adrenaline for that game. I just remember feeling a huge sense of relief when I saw it hit the back of the net. I don-t recall how it went in, I just know it did. Yes, it was fantastic to get that first goal and a huge relief to get that monkey off my back so to speak.
The journey from plasterer to Hyundai A-League striker has been an amazing rise. What has been the highlight of the last twelve months?
Playing for the Mariners in Australia-s premier competition for football and everything we have achieved over the past twelve months. I just love representing the club especially since they are my local team. I was following them in season one with my mates at Bluetongue Stadium, now I-m playing with them. It-s been an amazing and wonderful journey and I-m just enjoying the entire experience. We have a great team spirit here on the Central Coast and winning the Premiership and playing in a Grand Final and qualifying for the AFC Champions League were the highlights.
You said last year that an important part of playing striker is to build up combinations, how is the Mariners- strike power looking?
I think our pre-season and early season form has been very promising. I think there is a lot of strike power up front and a lot of competition for a limited number of positions amongst the strikers. I think the competition is healthy and a real positive for the team. Sasho has been in good form, Dylan Macallister scored some great goals in the pre-season and is looking sharp at training and Nik Mrdja is regaining his fitness. At the moment it is about learning each other-s games and building up combinations at training and trying different things before we go and do it in a game situation.
Enthusiasm and a willingness to always chase the ball is a key aspect of your game. Was season three a case of trying too hard to put the ball away and things not working?
To tell you the truth I-m not sure what it was. I was trying very hard to get that first goal last season and maybe I did put myself under too much pressure. I-m not too sure. It-s part of the game though to have lean patches. Hopefully I-ll be able to put a lot more away this year as I continue to learn more about my game.
What are your thoughts on the expansion of the Hyundai A-League and will more games improve the quality of the football further?
It-s a bit of a double-edged sword so to speak. From a playing perspective, yes more games would be great. However the Hyundai A-League has to be careful when expanding, although I think the two new Queensland sides will be a positive move for the league. I think the priority has to be to have the strongest competition possible and that includes everything from playing depth to corporate opportunities. I think the league can expand to whatever teams they choose to put in and as long as all clubs are successful and sustainable I think it will be positive for the game.
As a Central Coast product it must be a proud feeling to see the club forging so many community ties, what are your thoughts on this area?
I love playing at Bluetongue Stadium because all my family and friends sit in the same spot every week. I think that is the best aspect of the club, we are very community oriented. It-s a pleasure to go out to schools and events and see the passion that football generates on the Central Coast. Running out with a full house at Bluetongue Stadium is a great feeling and I hope the relationship between club, community and fans continues to grow and develop into the future.
You are at an age in your career where you can still reflect on the development process that got you to the elite level, with the introduction of the National Youth League do you think it will be easier for up and coming talent to progress to the Hyundai A-League?
I think it-s a great move and a direction the Hyundai A-League had to go in. There is so much talent in the junior leagues on the Central Coast and elsewhere around the state and there had to be a system for young players to go to. The hardest thing about making the grade in football is the ages from 16 to 20 when the best players are too good for their own age group but struggle to make it in with a senior grade side because they are perceived to be too young. It-s a difficult situation and one the Mariners tried to rectify with the development of the Youth Academy with specific ties to the club. I think this was a great idea as it exposed young players to new training ideas and a professional environment. The National Youth League was a natural next step from this idea and it-s great that there are now so many different pathways for young players to achieve their dreams.
Did the absence of this path when you were first introduced to the Mariners hinder your development or did it benefit you by making you hungrier for success?
That-s a difficult question to reflect on. I think it was difficult for nearly every young player on the Central Coast in the pre-Mariners age. I mean, to further your career in those days you had to move to Sydney or overseas to achieve your goals. Not everybody is ready to move away from home at that age. I think that led to people becoming disillusioned with the game. I left for a while and then came back and played for Lightning and it-s been fantastic for me ever since. There were no clear pathways when I was coming through the ranks and that was only about five years ago, so yes a lot has changed in a short time. I think it made me hungrier but I don-t think it has affected my development as a player.
What are your own goals for the Hyundai A-League 2008/09 campaign?
To play as many games as possible for the Mariners, enjoy my football and hopefully score a few goals.