Mariners aim to fast-track youngsters

The Central Coast Mariners are taking steps keep the club and area at the forefront of Australian football's development pathway.

Mariners Academy midfielder Daniel Bragg chases the ball against Rockdale City. Photos by loopii

The Central Coast Mariners have been among the leading and most consistently successful Hyundai A-League club's in recent years and steps are in place to keep the club and area at the forefront of Australian football's development pathway.

For the first time, the club have entered a team in the highly competitive NSW Premier Leagues competition this season.

But what makes this squad different is that it is made up almost entirely of youngsters from the club's burgeoning academy.

Emerging names like Tomislav Cirjak, Dillon Vorster, Louis Bozanic, Steve Whyte, Adam Jenner and Josh Forbes are just some of the impressive youngsters - combined with a smattering of senior players - taking on the best senior sides in NSW every weekend.

It's important to note that the majority of the side are made up of home-grown players, boys either born or now living on the Central Coast.

With an average age in the squad of less than 20, it's perhaps no surprise results have been hard to come by in the early parts of the season.

But as coach Mark Jones explains, the benefits for the future far outweigh the number of wins they have managed so far this season.

"It's all about establishing a strong framework for the club," said Jones, the ex-Newcastle Jets assistant now in charge of moulding these youngsters.

"The premise is to try and get as many boys as we can - especially local boys - into the youth team.

"To play in a league like the NSW Premier League against men who are hardened footballers is great for their progression.

"If we can get these guys into the youth team then there is a pathway there to get to the senior squad and the A-League.

"Arnie (Mariners A-League coach Graham Arnold) has always been about giving youth an opportunity.

"I believe this is a good model for clubs in the rest of the country moving forward."

The club's policy has drawn some comparisons with that of Spanish Primera Liga club Athletic Bilbao, who are known for bringing young local Basque players through their ranks.

The Spanish club also put a priority of trying to recruit top Basque players from other clubs.

While the policy has been relaxed in recent years, the thinking behind it is the hope of promoting home grown players and instilling club loyalty.

"I believe it's always important to have local boys in your squad," Jones says.

"It's great for the team, better for the area and local community and they feel like they have an affiliation with the team.

"Hopefully that sort of thing improves crowds and it can only be positive really.

"We'd love to have a youth team made up of predominantly local boys that can stay on the Central Coast and still play good football at the top level."

While the wins have been hard to come by in the early stages of the seasons, there has been some positive signs in recent weeks with the youngsters getting used to the pace and physicality of the competition.

The Mariners Academy just recently booked their spot in the quarter-finals of the Waratah Cup after a penalty shoot-out win over the Mounties Wanderers.

And with the senior Mariners now finished their commitments after they were knocked out of the Asian Champions League, some reinforcements may be on their way to help guide the youngsters through.

Jones is hopeful the likes of Adriano Pelligrino, Brad McDonald and Sam Gallagher will help to improve results and help the side move away from the foot of the ladder.

"There's been times this season where we get out-muscled but slowly results are improving," Jones said.

"There's been a lot of games where we've dominated possession and created chances but just not taken them.

"As so often with players so young if you switch off for a second you get punished at the other end and you're behind.

"It's been hard but results are starting to turn around.

"While I can already see the improvement and development of these boys, we need to be mindful of results too.

"We don't want to find ourselves getting relegated. With a few senior boys coming back I'm sure we'll continue to improve our results and move up the table."