Ernie Merrick couldn’t name one Melbourne Cup runner on Tuesday but he knows the undefeated Newcastle Jets are on a winner with Roy O’Donovan.
The Jets striker has produced one of the best individual starts to an A-League season with seven goals from the opening five rounds and the Newcastle coach backs the 32-year-old Irishman to keep the good times rolling.
Five goals from the remaining 22 fixtures and O’Donovan, who celebrated his 50th A-League appearance on Saturday with a winning double, would surpass last season’s return of 11 at the Central Coast Mariners.
And with his A-League career average now at 0.52 goals-per-game, putting the Cork-born forward 12th on the overall standings behind the likes of Bruno Fornaroli (0.75) and Besart Berisha (0.64), it would be hard to tip against O’Donovan reaching that mark.
“We certainly have backed a winner,” Merrick said after training at Ray Watt Oval.
“To be frank it was a very good decision by [Jets chief executive officer] Lawrie McKinna, he did the signing before I arrived.
“Whatever club Roy plays at he’ll play well, but getting the service he’s getting now he’s excelling and he’s loving it. He’s also very good at providing opportunities for other players, but on the park he’s a real leader and to have a leader up front is a big plus for us.”
O’Donovan heads the 2017-2018 goal-scoring list by three and will again be the Jets’ go-to man up front for Saturday’s clash away with Adelaide, where skipper Nigel Boogaard will bring up his 200th A-League cap against his former club.
Merrick said he expected the Jets’ starting XI to stay the same for the round six encounter “because it’s doing so well” but Ivan Necevski would come onto the bench as cover for reserve goalkeeper Glen Moss, who will be on international duties for the All Whites against Peru in New Zealand.
Injured defender Daniel Georgievski (hamstring) trained with the third-placed squad in a “first-class” session but Merrick said he wouldn’t be “rushed back”.
Meanwhile, Merrick dismissed speculation about the Jets signing former loan player Nathan Burns.
“It’s important I clear up the Nathan Burns situation,” Merrick said.
“This club have got no intention of signing Nathan Burns either in January or at the end of the year.
“I don’t know where that nonsense came from.”
Merrick said the Jets still weren’t looking for an immediate replacement of injured marquee Ronny Vargas (ankle), who has begun rehabilitation and is expected back around February, but the mid-season transfer window may be utilised.
“No one at all on the radar,” Merrick said.
“I’m certainly looking at options for January, but there’s none come up at the moment. You really have to wait until the window opens before you see who is available.”