Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick couldn’t thank the Mariners enough.
As the Jets team bus travelled down the freeway to Central Coast Stadium to take on the Mariners, there it was, a giant billboard, a giant dig at the Jets.
“The best road in Newcastle is the one out of it. Welcome to the Central Coast” the sign read above the Mariners logo and alongside a picture of former Jets Ben Kennedy and Andrew Hoole, who didn’t feature in round one.
“I would hate it if I club that I was associated with would do that,” Merrick said. “That is handing motivation to the opposition. That is the best motivation they could have given us. I’m not into that stuff and I think it backfired on them big time.”
If that wasn’t enough, as the players lined up for kick-off, the Mariners supporters unveiled a banner which had a caricature of O’Donovan as a snake being held up by Lawrie McKinna.
“It was disgraceful stuff, I don’t want to comment on that,” Merrick said. “But to put a [billboard] sign up, that must come from higher up. Thank them very much for me.”
O’Donovan “wasn’t bothered” by the banner or the boos from the crowd.
“I have been around the block a few times,” he said. “I had a good relationship with the Mariners fans and I would have been disappointed if they didn’t jeer me. The only thing I care about is scoring goals and winning games. Both things happened so I am buzzing.”
O’Donovan’s hat-trick overshadowed the highly-anticipated debut by marquee Ronny Vargas.
The Venezuelan international lacked service early but showed glimpses of his class with his composure on the ball under pressure and ability to find free players.
He played a part in O’Donovan’s second goal, releasing Nabbout with a rasping 40 metre pass and put him self about in 60 minute shift.
“I thought he was terrific,” Merrick said. “Steve Ugarkovic and Ben Kantarovski played more as defensive midfielders and were not getting the ball forward to him enough early. We brought Dimi inside closer to Ronny and when the two of them started playing together, we were right.”