EXCLUSIVE: Gold Coast United coach Mike Mulvey focused on self-belief and togetherness when he took over the team, and has spoken of his pride in what his young players achieved.
Mulvey took the coaching reins as the club drifted into chaos late in the A-League season.
The former QAS and United assistant coach took over for one game against Melbourne Heart after then-owner Clive Palmer’s one game sanction of then-head coach Miron Bleiberg.
With the exit of Bleiberg, Mulvey took control a few days later.
“It was surreal,” he told au.fourfourtwo.com of being told he was coach of the team on the morning of that flight to Melbourne. “It came out of the blue.”
Subsequent licence battles and court injunctions further complicated matters. But Mulvey had a clear plan.
He quickly instituted pillars around which he built his young team’s resolve over the final six weeks of a trying A-League campaign.
“We had a method, we had belief and most importantly, I told the players I trusted them; no matter what happens. I think this helps in self belief,” he said.
“And you know what? People can get carried away with tactics and technical ability. At the end of the day, it’s men who win games. What we were asking was a group of boys to be men.
“So we went out there and tried to play. And we made mistakes trying to play out.
“Every coach will tell you a mistake invariably leads to a goal but we’re trying to play the game the right way.”
Without the fear of relegation in the A-League Mulvey said it was about what lessons could they learn that are going to help in the future.
“We decided to simply concentrate on our game,” said the English-born coach who arrived in Brisbane some 30 years ago as an NSL player.
“We were playing against the likes of the Mariners with champion players and Kewell, Hernandez and others.
“We didn’t want to frighten the lads by saying we’re up against the best team in the league.
“We actually took the opposite view, and said let’s concentrate on our game and anyone who comes here, let’s have a real go at them.
“We haven’t once spoken about the opponent in any significant way about stopping them doing this… we said, let them worry about what we can try and do,” he said.
“That’s what we did and that’s the attitude we took forward. Let’s use these six games to give players that opportunity they may not have got ordinarily.
“Every coach wants to win but it’s the way you try and do that. I thought it was more important to have a system in place that we could adhere to and bring players in to play in that system.
“My mantra all along was: players, preparation and performance. While everything else was going on outside [of the playing group], we had to keep them together.
“And this was before the real issues started regarding the licence.”
Gold Coast lost 1-0 to Heart in that first game under Mulvey, which featured Mitch Cooper as captain, but United showed plenty of promise against a side that was finals-bound.
“We probably were fighting well above our weight,” conceded Mulvey, a midfielder back in the day.
“I was really proud of that effort but it gave me an insight into what these lads were capable of over the coming weeks.”
By the following Monday morning, Mulvey was appointed coach and two days later a young United stunned the A-League’s eventual Plate winner with an enthralling 3-3 home draw against Central Coast.
“They performed manfully," said Mulvey. "I was really happy with their attitude."
They then played Melbourne Victory for their third game in a week. A 1-1 draw confirmed to Mulvey the team was on the right track.
“You’ve got to think one game at a time," he said. "If you start thinking too far ahead it can tip over.
“What I said to the players was the only way we were going to achieve anything was to stick together.
“And if we didn’t stick together then we wouldn’t be able to achieve anything. And the attitude and courage of the players was there to see.”
Subsequent clashes against Newcastle Jets, Perth Glory and Brisbane Roar confirmed the side had something.
The only game in six weeks that United didn’t impress was against Wellington Phoenix.
But there was a context. Late night meetings and phone calls with the PFA and FFA in the lead up to the game, the club’s licence change, changed flight plans to New Zealand meaning a 1am landing on the day of the game and a new coach reported to be Tom Sermanni.
In the event Mulvey was always going to be the coach –he was the players’ choice as well as FFA’s.
“It was a tumultuous time,” recalled Mulvey. “To be fair, we got spanked. We could’ve been turned over five or six goals had it not been for Jerrad Tyson’s heroics. They only lost 2-0 at the Cake Tin.
“I knew we were a far better team than that.”
Two sessions later they played the Jets on the Friday night in the Hunter and United once again impressed.
In the last six games, Josh Brillante, Zach Anderson, Daniel Bowles, Mitch Cooper and Jake Barker-Daish have all made a name for themselves.
Bowles, for instance, began as a right full back and ended the season as a right-winger with a penchant for goals.
Mulvey explained it as shaping boys into men.
“Every club is a mini family and we’ve built up a great camaraderie," he said. "But there’s no room for sentimentality in football.
“As I said to the players, they need to put themselves in the shop window, and that what drove the desire to play well. We gave everybody and opportunity and I think that’s been proven right.
“But I do really want to highlight the senior players who played the bulk of games: Michael Thwaite, Peter Jungschlager and Maceo Rigters.
“I think it gave them a new lease of life. It’s been a great journey….”
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