Now that was a sporting weekend to savour, wasn’t it? A Jets resurrection, the power of Winx, and a fitting, triumphant finale, draped in his customary humility, for the great – our great – Kurt Fearnley.
If that scenario didn’t bring a tear to your eye, I don’t know what will, for this was a celebration of long-term achievement, endeavour, and perhaps most importantly legacy, from a human being whose grace, all-encompassing perspective, eloquence, and sheer bloody guts filled this Novacastrian with enormous pride.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget just what an athlete he is, because of all of his other qualities, but any sports person who has been operating with a heart rate of 194 for even a few minutes, let alone at that average for more than 90, will have an idea of the pain.
All of which caused me to burst out in ironic laughter late Sunday morning, as Bruce McAvaney’s poignant call was replayed on the car radio, and I passed the Fearnley-Dawes Field (blue track), and glanced down at the guilty stash of egg-and-bacon McMuffins, fresh from a King St raid.
Life’s great some days ... and I digress with total justification.
That raid paled in comparison to the siege laid out by the Jets at Sauce Bottle Park in Gosford. It was swift, brutal, relentless, and I have to say, given recent form, delightfully unexpected.
I say that, having predicted in last week’s column that Ernie Merrick would revert to his most athletic and mobile line-up, in a bid to help his team regain their early-season form.
I went as far as saying I expected this game to be a full dress rehearsal, even audition, for the qualifying final to be staged in Newcastle on April 27. It probably was.
What I didn’t see coming was the demolition inflicted on the Mariners, who had been competitive against the likes of Sydney and Melbourne City in recent weeks.
Merrick noted the blueprint was always there. Interim Mariners coach Wayne O’Sullivan gracious enough to offer that Newcastle’s pace, power, and strength, and their style of play, could seriously trouble any finals opponents.
I didn’t see Ernie taking the gamble with Johnny Koutroumbis at right back, after two months without first-team football, but his athleticism obviously got him the nod, and he did his chances of a starting position in 10 days time no harm at all.
Likewise, Joey Champness, who opened the scoring, and whose mobility and appetite for taking on defenders in the final third, fits Merrick’s preferred options in attack.
With Ben Kantarovski’s hamstring injury, suffered on Saturday, and continuing question marks over the injuries/fitness of Nigel Boogaard and Ronny Vargas, it seems logical that the only change to the starting side might be Lachlan Jackson in for Kantarovski.
Anyhow, that decision is over two paydays away, an absolute lifetime , and much can happen between now and then.
I must say I’m not sure whether the Jets were ultra-impressive, the Mariners disintegrated, or a combination of both. As Andy Harper noted, it’s difficult to say too much constructive about a side who lose two home derbies by an aggregate score of 13-3.
Many fans will relish the fact that humiliating defeat consigned the Mariners to the wooden spoon, and heaped some anguish on ex-Jets players, but it’s a concept I’ve never quite come to terms with.
I’d be more inclined to be delighted with the reassurance that the wheels haven’t fallen off the Jets, they still have appetite, belief and game, and are very much in the grand final frame again.
I would also find time to spare a thought for Josh Rose, who retired after great service to the Mariners, and briefly the New Zealand Knights, and Melbourne City. He definitely didn’t deserve to go out in such fashion.
And if I may, memo to CEOs and match-day coordinators, leaving presentations and recognitions until the end of matches, and/or seasons is fraught with danger, and possible embarrassment. Get it done pre-game.
So we look forward to April 27, a Friday night to hopefully remember.
Can I start with a friendly reminder/warning for members and punters. My understanding is that your season ticket does not entitle you to admission for the qualifying final, as the play-offs are a different entity to the regular season. Don’t miss out because of an oversight or a misunderstanding.
Who will the Jets be playing? If Melbourne City (third) beat Brisbane (sixth) at AAMI Park on Friday night, they will be the Jets’ opponent. If Brisbane win they will play Sydney, as the lowest-ranked winner, and the Jets will host the winner of Melbourne Victory (fourth) or Adelaide United (fifth). It’s that simple.
I noted a couple of pundits tipped the Roar to upset Melbourne City, but if City coach Warren Joyce remains positive and picks his most attacking midfield combination, I see City being a little too mobile and clever.
The Roar may struggle against the quality of Fornaroli, Arzani, Vidosic and Mauk.
If John Aloisi’s clever veterans do pull off an upset, then the Jets will face Victory or Adelaide, and that game could go either way.
Victory have home-ground advantage, finals experience, and possibly a touch more quality, but Adelaide will pressure them for 90 minutes, disrupt their possession game and have the pace and quality in wide areas to cause real problems.
Adelaide have a real chance if they can keep their composure, keep 11 men on the pitch, and minimise free-kicks in dangerous areas.
For the past two months I believed that the Jets would play one of the Melbourne sides in the semi-finals and I have no reason to change my mind.
I don’t think either are over the line, but it would surprise if both went out in week one.
For the record, I think that City will get the job done on Friday night, and the Jets will be planning for Fornaroli, Arzani, Brattan and co.
We will know shortly.