Monday, March 13, 2006

A-League gongs - Mariners could hijack awards

An unbelievable inaugural A-League season is done and dusted, with a whole host of players and managers making their mark in a season where the national domestic competition finally created a profile for them that previously didn’t exist. Tonight sees the season wind down with an awards night in Sydney, trumpeted as glam affair more in keeping with "MTV than the Brownlow or Dally M", but don't be surprised if the working class Central Coast Mariners feature prominently in the three most coveted categories.

Johnny Warren medal; awarded the A-League's players' player of the regular season, expect players from the minor premiers and grand finalist to feature prominently in the calculations. While straight red cards count out the likes of Steve Corica, Michael Beauchamp and Nick Carle, the voting system - each of the 20 players per squad casting their three, two and one votes at the end of each of the three rounds, weeks seven, 14 and 21 - throws in the potential for a couple of wildcards to emerge from the pack. For example, expect players from Melbourne Victory, particularly Archie Thompson, Richard Kitzbichler and Kevin Muscat, to feature prominently in the first phase of voting, where the Victory were high up the table. In the second phase, which featured an undefeated run of seven games for Newcastle Jets, the likes of Richard Johnston and Nick Carle could grab a few votes, which complicates things as Carle is ineligible by virtue of his straight red in the round six clash against Queensland. In the third phase, the excellent finishes from the likes of the Roar, the Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC may take some of the votes off the minor premiers, Adelaide United, who dipped in the last three rounds. Expect Alex Brosque to feature strongly in the third phase. The big question is whether these guys, who were spectacular for parts of the season, will take enough votes from the players who performed consistently throughout the season, the likes of Carl Veart, Shengqing Qu, Michael Valkanis, Ross Aloisi and Angelo Costanzo (all Adelaide), Dean Heffernan, Noel Spencer, Stewart Petrie and Andre Gumprecht (all Mariners) and Alvin Ceccoli, David Carney and Clint Bolton (all Sydney FC). Hopefully not, as there's little doubt the Johnny Warren medal should recognise the most consistent player in the competition, in which case, expect Andre Gumprecht to be right in the calculations as he is among the most respected players in the competition.

Rising Star; awarded to the best youth player, 20 years and under, and judged by the three person panel of Ange Postecoglou, Cheryl Salisbury and Hayden Foxe, this should be a race in five between Mariners goalkeeper Danny Vukovic, Melbourne Victory defender Adrian Leijer, Perth Glory attacking midfielder Nick Ward, Sydney FC defender Jacob Timpano and New Zealand Knights attacking midfielder Jeremy Brockie. Another youngster to make an impression was the Roar's Spase Dilevski, but the other five are certainly ahead in the race for the Rising Star. All were relative unknowns at the start of the season, but try and find a football follower now who hasn't heard about their exploits. Ward was unlucky to miss on out Perth Glory's player of the year award, Brockie was hands-down the revelation of a tragic Knights season, Leijer made a spectacular impression as part of a tight Victory defence, as did Timpano for Sydney, while Vukovic was undoubtedly the best emerging goalkeeper in the league, coming in for the injured John Crawley and helping his team through an undefeated run of 12 games, which took the Mariners all the way to the grand final. For this, Danny Vukovic gets the Rising Star gig.

Coach of the year; with votes being cast on a 3-2-1 basis in the week after the grand final, expect the top three managers, Pierre Littbarski, Lawrie McKinna and John Kosmina to dominate the votes. Littbarski had little choice in the selection of his squad but was still able to deal with the pressure and expectation to take his men to the world club championships in Japan, as well as the championship on grand final day, all with the conjecture about whether he'd be re-signed for next season hovering in the background. Kosmina built a largely home-grown squad and romped away with the minor premiership, but possibly counting against him may be the fact he was involved in a number of heated exchanges with other coaches, notably Littbarski and the Roar's Miron Bleiberg. With the coaches voting for each other, this may hand favouritism to Lawrie McKinna. The popular Scot was able to mould together a team with limited resources and instill in them the unity and belief to make all three finals.


Anonymous Gosford Harry said...

One out of three, not a bad result, and I agree Vukovic should have won Rising Star, but as you said it was a very close thing between five players, and Ward did have an very good year.

It was a mystery how Despotovski won, maybe his goals at the start of the season?

And I think the Mariners paid for their consistency. Never mind, great year from the Mariners...... hopefully one step further next year. Cant wait.

Wed. Mar. 15, 07:11:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Harry, yes I agree the choice of Despotvski was a surprise on the surface, but when you consider he was the leading goalscorer in the competition in the first half of the season and that he scored goals against every team but the Mariners, perhaps its not the greatest surprise.

He scored 8 for the season, but 7 of them had come by the end of round 12, so he would have cleaned up alot of the votes in the first and second phases, especially the first seven rounds when he'd scored five.

The thing that would have stuck out in the players minds when it was time to vote was who played well against them, and Bobby sticks out because he scored goals against most of the teams.

In any case, strikers and attackers traditionally do well in awards like this.

I thought his form in the second half of the season, as the Glory slipped down the ladder, may count against him, but I guess plyers remembered his good form earlier in the season, when he really carried the Perth team on his own, particularly with all the off-field drama around McMahon.

I agree with you that the consistency and evenness of the squad cost the Mariners in the end. They shared the points around because they were all good, and it was no surprise they had so many (five) in the top 20. It was the same with Adelaide, who also had five in the top 20, so the two most consitent team polled the most consistently.

But as is the case with other sports such as the Brownlow medal in AFL, a stand-out in any team is always likely to poll well, as was the case with the likes of Despotovski, Yorke, Brosque and Thompson.

I wouldn't be surprised if FFA tinkered a little bit with the voting format next season, while the media is likely to place greater interest and scrutiny on the awards throughout the season, not just at the end of it.

It would be great if the FFA introduced positional awards next season, such as best goalkeeper, best fullback, best centre back, best central midfielder, best wide midfielder, best striker etc...

Another option would be something like an A-League All-Star XI, similar to what you see from FIFA and UEFA at the major championships.

Thu. Mar. 16, 03:39:00 pm AEDT  

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