The Mariners' inaugural NYL campaign in review.
In November 2007, Football Federation Australia (FFA) announced the implementation of its long awaited national development plan.
The number one priority of this plan was the fast tracking of a National Youth League (NYL).
This step was seen as essential to consolidate the development of football in this country and to provide a genuine pathway for Australia-s most talented prospects to establish themselves domestically.
It was a movement that was very much called for and supported by many within the Australian football community.
"This competition is particularly important because, for the first time, talented young players will have an opportunity to play regular, quality competitive games regardless of whether they are part of the AIS program, the state sports institutes or the state football leagues." - Ben Buckley, FFA CEO.
The new competition was to be implemented for players between the ages of 16 and 21 - commonly regarded as the most imperative years in a player-s development.
Crucially, the youth competition structure allowed provisions for overage players to get game time as well.
This was a significant and positive development as it allowed the cream of the youth to be mentored by their senior counterparts, enabling them to be gradually exposed to the life of a professional footballer.
As the Hyundai A-League season progressed into the latter rounds and the senior Central Coast Mariners squad was affected by a growing injury toll, a number of regulars benefited from game time with the talents of the next generation.
The youngsters who donned the yellow and navy strip for the Mariners acquitted themselves well in what was a testing year for the new competition.
While not achieving the same start up success as their senior counterparts did in the inaugural Hyundai A-League season, the young Mariners rallied late in the season to claim fifth place on the final table.
‘Consistency- was the buzzword throughout the inaugural campaign as the youngsters were introduced to the realities of life as a footballer.
The travel and training throughout the season, with many of the young stars coming from outside of the Central Coast, presented many logistical challenges for the coaching staff and players alike.
As the season progressed patterns began to emerge as players began to learn each other-s style and towards the end of the season the young Mariners demonstrated the comeback spirit made famous by their Hyundai A-League counterparts by salvaging some matches when the cause seemed lost - the most notable of which against the Perth Glory at Members Equity Stadium.
In a twist seldom seen in football, the young Mariners won more games on the road than at their idyllic bay side home.
The youngsters finished their inaugural campaign with 6 wins, 2 draws, 10 losses, 20 goals scored and 36 conceded to finish with a solid 20 competition points.
Rather than the raw statistics, however, on paper the Mariners can be proud that they exposed 16 talented youngsters to the triumphs and tribulations of top-level football.
The Central Coast-s inaugural NYL season will be remembered as much for its efforts on the field as well as being the baptism of fire for two new coaches.
Alex Tobin, an Australian football legend, and Damien Brown, the Mariners- historic first ever Hyundai A-League signing and now youth development manager, cut their teeth during this inaugural campaign.
Both were confronted with numerous challenges over the season with regards to the logistical problems that are inevitable in any start up operation.
Indeed on occasions it was difficult to get the squad together for training so the coaches must be given credit for bringing the team together.
Tobin also had his game day duties with the senior squad extended with the departure of Ian Ferguson to head the new North Queensland franchise midseason.
"I believe reflecting back on the season that it has been largely encouraging. It was a season where the main aim was to get the players used to professional football and the various factors that requires. It was about getting the players to back up week to week and get used to the travel, and the training intensity. I think along the way we showed improvement and managed to play some attractive football. The players will benefit from having this experience and I think we can improve over the next few seasons." - Alex Tobin, NYL Head Coach
"It was a pleasure to be involved with this side throughout the season. Although the results didn-t quite go our way at times the boys quickly learned that-s a part of football. The season threw up quite a lot of challenges but we came through them together as a team. It was encouraging to see the improvement in the team and there were a number of players towards the end of the season who were fighting for a run in the Hyundai A-League. I think that there are a number of encouraging signs for the future of this team." - Damien Brown, NYL Assistant Coach.
To demonstrate the positive impact that the NYL had on the Mariners club, three young players were rewarded for outstanding individual seasons.
Nathan Sherlock, Matthew Lewis and Central Coast product Brady Smith were added to the senior squad for the Mariners- maiden Asian odyssey.
Of these, standout left-sided utility Matthew Lewis was the only to have made his full senior debut during the Hyundai A-League season.
This came in the dying moments of the Mariners- final regular season Hyundai A-League game - where Lewis became the youngest player to ever pull on the yellow and navy in the Hyundai A-League.
Smith played a key role throughout the NYL season, contributing a number of goals as well as gaining senior experience throughout the Mariners- exhaustive pre-season schedule ahead of the clubs season four campaign.
Sherlock captained the side admirably throughout the season, demonstrating maturity and poise beyond his tender years.
Sherlock was challenging for a spot in the senior side before an untimely knee injury curtailed his season.
That these players have been added to the senior squad speaks volumes for the potential opportunities that exist for talented young players who dare to dream.
This clearly demonstrates that the creation of the NYL has indeed created opportunities to further the development of Australia-s most talented junior players.
In time, many graduates from the NYL may indeed grace foreign fields in the distinctive green and gold jumper of the national side.
Youth goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne experienced that dream during the inaugural NYL campaign by playing a significant role in helping Australia qualify for the 2009 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Egypt.
The future for the Mariners looks bright as junior talent continues to be identified and developed.
As the Mariners continue to strive for their goal of becoming the premier football institution in Australia, the development of youth remains a major priority.
The NYL team of the Central Coast can look ahead to building on the foundation of season one and to greater success in the seasons ahead.