Central Coast Mariners Chief Executive Officer Shaun Mielekamp was emotional and raw as he spoke to KEEPUP in the aftermath of watching his club secure its first Isuzu UTE A-League Championship in a decade.
“The club is always wanting to go back to the good old days – well, these days are even better.”
Central Coast Mariners CEO Shaun Mielekamp guided the club through its lowest ebb.
But on Saturday night, he watched the Mariners secure their first Isuzu UTE A-League Championship in a decade.
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Mielekamp spoke to KEEPUP on the CommBank Stadium turf in the minutes preceding the trophy lift, delivering an extraordinary, emotional interview after watching the team he’d led back from the brink reach the summit of Australian football,
“I think the big word that keeps coming up is: unbelievable,” he said. “We kept saying believe… and now, it’s unbelievable. To see this club, to see our club, to see our families out here in this. It just leaves you speechless.
“There was a time during COVID, I was the only person working. I thought we were just going to close the club. The club was gone.
“The amount of times we’ve not been able to pay bills, and had to scrap for everything, and constantly feeling the responsibility of the community to keep the club alive.
“And then you make mistakes, because you’re trying too hard. And you don’t know you’re in the dark times when you’re there, because you still believe. So you still keep going… until you look back and think: ‘Oh wow, that was pretty ordinary’. But we come here now, and this is what we always believed this club could do. It’s going to take a lot of time to digest this.”
“I didn’t know our club actually had this in it,” he added. “I didn’t know we could be this amazing. I always believed this club was something special, but this is special beyond words.
“The boys epitomise everything this club stands for: you don’t back down, we believe, we work hard, we back each other in, we’re a big, big family, and I just hope to be fair that the rest of the league sees that this is what the A-League is.
“This is the A-League. Let’s keep focus on what’s really positive, and what we need to do collectively, everybody needs to band together and do more of this. Everybody.”
Tears welled in the eyes of the Mariners chief as he pinpointed the moment his side’s incredible Championship triumph hit home.
“It got so surreal for a while,” he said. “It wasn’t until I hugged my family and my kids, and thought of the years we had, the tough times. I just can’t believe it.”
Now, a unique challenge presents to Mielekamp and the backroom staff at the club, as a pivotal off-season presents to a club that, for the first time in a decade, will approach an A-League Men campaign as not the hunter, but the hunted.
The Mariners are a self-proclaimed “selling club” – head coach Nick Montgomery labelled them as such in his post-Grand Final press conference – and there’s bound to be interest aplenty in his Grand Final stars in the off-season to come.
With an AFC Cup campaign set to kick off the 2023-24 campaign earlier than usual, the moves in the backroom will be of vital importance to how the reigning Champions press onward.
Mielekamp is ready to revel in the task. But first…
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 24 hours,” he said. “We’ve just got to ride the wave, and enjoy it. Then before you know it, September is going to hit. We’ll be playing in Asia, we’ll be playing in the Australia Cup, we’ll have new players and we’ll start again.
“We’ll have new kids coming through the academy, we’ll have players move on and we’ll keep going. We just keep going.
“It’s really important for us as a club that we don’t just take this moment and think that’s it, and take our foot off. We have to make sure we learn that we can come and do this again next year, and we can keep being the pride of the league.
“Our coach Monty, our leader of the club, brings everything (together),” he continued. “This week through all the craziness, through all the pushbacks we do as a club and all the barriers we put in the way to protect our playing group, he was the rock. He was the calm one that guided everybody through.
“So many people today asked me today: ‘Are you nervous?’ You can’t be nervous. These guys are just so calm and that’s all because of Monty and the mentality he instils in these guys.
“We’ve got club legends that will be here forever, and now we’re just looking forward. The club is always wanting to go back to the good old days – well, these days are even better.”