The 2012-13 A-League crown comes as deserved vindication for Central Coast - and in particular coach Graham Arnold, according to chief editor Paddy Higgs
|By PADDY HIGGS at ALLIANZ STADIUM
Chief editor - Australia
Graham Arnold was perhaps the most relaxed man at Saturday's pre-grand final press conference.
He seemed to have a light-hearted response to every question thrown at him by journalists, and even conjured up more than one smile from former team-mate and opposing Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic.
But never far away was the sense that, lurking only just below the jocular exterior, laid the real Arnold.
That Arnold was perhaps closest to the surface when agreeing that, after a season in which the Central Coast Mariners' financial problems came to a head, it was the camaraderie that had gotten his squad through the weeks of missing wages and uncertainty.
The bond within the Mariners' circle - from the players to the coaches and staff - got the ultimate vindication in the club's long-overdue championship win at the expense of the Wanderers.
And while his jovial performance at the press conference would not have suggested it, few have perhaps given up more than Arnold along the way.
While still highly rated by those in football even after his oft-criticised time as Australia coach, the Mariners' risked fan backlash by appointing Arnold in 2010.
It seems like eons ago now, with the club winning two Premiers' Plate and now the championship in the three years Arnold has been in charge.
Arnold's star at the Mariners rose quicker than it had fallen with the Socceroos, and he has subsequently had his offers from elsewhere.
He was a phone call away from joining Sydney FC before the 2012-13 A-League season, and was understood to have been closer than many had thought to the job at Scottish Premier League club St Johnstone in 2011.
Much more than a greener pitch beckoned for Arnold on the other side of the fence; money - both his and that of the club - and profile were there for him to take.
But - justifying the club's decision to appoint him - he stuck with the Mariners, through all the opportunities and doubts.
How long Arnold will remain at the Mariners is the subject of some conjecture.
He admitted after the match that he had "completed the journey", but was nonetheless "happy" to be at Central Coast. "We'll see what happens," he said.
Under no doubt is that Arnold has been as crucial as any is moulding the club into one that is far too successful for its stature - the little club that thought it could.
He traveled the world as a player and seems likely to do so at some stage as a coach.
If Arnold's ship does sail out of Gosford, his mark will be indelible, but it will not just be for the football he has brought to the club.
Many have said that loyalty exists not in the modern game. Arnold has proved, however, that a little of that can go a long way.