We are more match fit, say Mariners
The Central Coast Mariners have ramped up the mind games ahead of Sunday's sell-out A-League grand final, suggesting their high-flying opponents from western Sydney might be underdone.
While the Mariners have battled through a frantic close to their season, complicated by Asian Champions League (ACL) fixtures, Tony Popovic's Western Sydney Wanderers have had plenty of time to rest and contemplate the fairytale of winning the league title in their debut season.
But the Mariners insist this might work against the Wanderers.
"They have played only one game in 22 days," said Mariners coach Graham Arnold, referring to the Sydney team's 2-0 preliminary final win over Brisbane Roar.
"Footballers like routine. They like playing regularly. So hopefully we will go in much more match-hardened."
If the Mariners do break their grand final hoodoo and win on Sunday, there will be no time for celebrations.
They fly to South Korea on Monday morning for an ACL match the following night, an indication of the sort of hectic schedule the Wanderers might face next season.
But the Mariners have mind games of their own to win in the meantime.
They face jibes that they are "chokers" who have lost all three of their previous A-League grand finals, including the "unloseable" decider two years ago when they surrendered a two-goal lead at the death.
They dismiss any suggestion this has placed a monkey on their back.
"People talk about the past three grand final (losses) but we can't do anything about them," Arnold said as the Mariners trained in front of hundreds of their supporters at Tuggerah on Thursday.
"We are fresh and motivated, and as long as we execute our game plan we will be fine."
Midfielder Oliver Bozanic said the so-called hoodoo "doesn't mean anything to us".
"You have to move on," said Bozanic, who scored one of his team's goals in that nightmare grand final loss to Brisbane Roar.
"I have good memories of us scoring a couple of goals, and bad memories of us losing. They are memories I don't want to repeat again this week. We're going to win."
Bozanic, Australia's under-23 captain, might well be given a starting role due to the absence of the suspended Nick Montgomery, the Mariners only casualty.
But Arnold could also turn to promising Anthony Caceres or Trent Sainsbury.
One thing most observers agree on is that the grand final pits the season's best two teams against each other - and the best two defences.
Arnold doesn't want a penalty shoot-out to decide it but, just in case, he had his players practicing spot kicks in front of an enthusiastic crowd on the Mariners fans day to replicate a big match atmosphere.
"You have to be prepared for every what-if scenario and any eventuality," said Arnold, who will be looking to players like Michael McGlinchey and Bernie Ibini to provide plenty of punch up front.
He said the way his players survived the club's recent financial crisis, before new owner Mike Charlesworth stepped in and saved the day, showed their mental strength and toughness.
"I've got huge belief in this group. They can handle anything," he said.
"We came through with flying colours. The players have mortgages, and bills, and kids to feed, but while we weren't getting paid we still won two games in a row.
"There is pressure on both teams, but I'm sure we can handle it."