Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners
If you do get into a conversation with an Australian – and let’s face it, they’re all over the place, so it’s highly possible – it won’t take long before the subject of Australian football is brought up. No, not the version involving unnecessarily tight shorts and legalised maiming, their version of soccer. The gist of the argument will revolve around how Australian football has been improving for the last couple of decades. Its worth your while nodding along, throwing in the odd noncommittal noise and then avoiding whatever part of the world it is in which you got into conversation with an Aussie.
Yes, Australian football is consistently improving, but the A-League remains about as enticing as a lift home from George Michael. Think Sunday League football only played with more pointless aggression in massive stadiums that are rarely half full. The majority of best players are already plying their trade in Europe and that leaves the domestic league with a curious mix of young talent trying to put themselves in the shop window for a move and veterans hovering up whatever cash they possibly can before retirement. That’s what former Socceroos manager Pim Verbeek was getting at in the build-up to last year’s World Cup when he suggested training with a German club side was better preparation for the tournament than playing first team A-League football. At 35 Robbie Fowler is still considered one of the league’s playmakers and he hasn’t been able to run since about the age of 24.
If there is a good part, it’s the Playoffs and as if by pure coincidence, that’s the stage of the season we’re at now. And we’re not signing its praises just because we’re contractually obliged to talk up absolutely everything related to the super-awesome Paddy Power corporation. Saturday morning sees Brisbane Roar host the Central Coast Mariners in a crucial showdown. As long as you take ‘crucial’ to mean largely pointless. These teams finished 1st and 2nd in the regular season with Brisbane romping home by 8 points. In most competitions that means you pick up the trophy and then hit the beach, but in the A-League it’s only enough to get you a place in the playoffs. The Roar and the Mariners meet in the second leg of the semi-final final with barely anything at stake. Brisbane won the first leg 2-0 away from home and with home advantage it would take a collapse of almost Arsenal proportions to deny them a direct route into the Grand Final – the game that actually matters. Unless they can turn it around, the Central Coast Mariners will have to take the scenic route to that game. It’s not so much sudden death as a slow painful death full of suffering. Kind of like having to watch the Glee box-set uninterrupted. They’ll go into the other semi-semi-final against a TBD team who’ve had their own overly long playoff odyssey. That’s more like a real semi-final because there’s a place in the final for the winner and aching regret for the losers.
Having comfortably been the best team in the regular season – so much so that we feel a little guilty tarring them with the ‘talentless oafs’ brush of earlier – Brisbane deserve to go all the way. The labyrinthine system makes that more complicated than it should be, but in the end Roar talent should come through.
If you like live football more than bad puns, then the Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners game gets underway at 9.05am on Saturday morning and its being streamed live on PaddyPower.com.