Thursday, August 31, 2006


The Gosford Curse

Shortly after the final whistle on Sunday, I suggested to a knowledgeable Mariners fan of my acquaintance that the Central Coast club may well have won, had they been able to call upon the striking ability of Nick Mrdja, Stewart Petrie and John Hutchinson.

He simply rolled his eyes, and shook his head in despair.

Despite their excellent performances throughout much of the A-League’s young history, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Mariners are under some kind of injury curse. Every time the team finds an effective new modus operandi, another player – usually a striker – gets banished to the operating table.

In the run-up to last year’s competition, Nick Mrdja was proving an ideal front-man, scoring two hat-tricks in pre-season games against Queensland and Adelaide (the latter in the brief World Club Championship playoff tournament). Before the start of the regular season, however, Mrdja had been forced out of the team with a knee injury. He would be absent for over a year.

Mrdja was only the first of many. In the course of the season, Stewart Petrie, Tom Pondeljak, even John Hutchinson, who was emerging as a surprisingly prolific makeshift striker, all succumbed to injury. Hutchinson’s case was perhaps the saddest: against Sydney FC in January, he suffered cruciate damage, and missed the rest of a season in which he had greatly enhanced his reputation.

The curse has continued to dog McKinna’s men in 2006/07. Pre-season outings had shown Stewart Petrie and the young Adam Kwasnik to be a fluent combination; I saw the two combine beautifully in the opening half-hour against Perth Glory in the pre-season opener. But, inevitably, Stewart Petrie encountered ankle trouble. He failed to recover in time for the season opener at Aussie Stadium, much to the Mariners’ detriment.

One incident in the second half of Sunday’s game perfectly summed up the Mariners’ luck in recent times.

Andre Gumprecht had dominated the midfield in the first half, and after Iain Fyfe’s goal, the Central Coast side desperately needed Gumprecht’s drive and penetrating runs to propel them towards an equalizer. The throng of Marinators behind the southern goal must have felt a familiar sick feeling in their stomachs when Gumprecht pulled up by the touch-line, and made the signal for a substitution. Hamstring strain.

Not for the first time, their most effective player had to leave the field just at the moment when he was most needed.

Any witch-doctors available up Gosford way?

The same could be said about last season's GF... Regarding that, BTW, it's interesting to look back on the previous national league GF (NSL 03-04), and how that was won. It was Nick Mrdja scoring against Clint Bolton, in a position not too disimilar to Stewart Petrie's two excellent 05-06 GF chances in the first half. What might have been, had Petrie not ran out of gas by that stage last season and Mrdja been available, even if just throughout a considerable earlier part of the season to lessen the burden off Petrie.
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