Goals galore, marvellous Mariners and Nestor’s next move: The most wholesome, positive storylines from the 2023/24 A-Leagues


There have been a seemingly endless number of negative, doom-and-gloom articles about the A-Leagues, most of them related to the APL’s mismanagement. This article celebrates some of the good things from this season.

Central Coast Mariners winning the Premiership

After their championship-winning squad was overhauled in the off-season and they lost their first four games in a row, alarm bells were ringing for Mariners’ fans. Coach Mark Jackson, who replaced Hibernian-bound Nick Montgomery, masterminded an incredible turnaround. The Mariners pipped Wellington Phoenix in their final game of the season to end a 12-year wait to lift the Premiers Plate, setting a club record 17 wins in the process.

The moment @CCMariners were crowned ???????????????????? ???????????? ????-???????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????? ????????????

An all-in hug on the touchline. Mark Jackson in the thick of it ????

What a moment, what a team!

Mariners crowned Premiers: https://t.co/CZHbWUmqDL pic.twitter.com/Nr0lWBMpAC

— Isuzu UTE A-League (@aleaguemen) May 1, 2024

Central Coast Mariners AFC Cup run

After topping their group and scoring 21 goals in their six games with only one loss in a gruelling home and away qualifying schedule which included away matches in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, the Mariners then played four more teams with games in Gosford, Campbelltown, and home and away matches in India and Tajikistan, winning their way to the final. They will play Lebanon’s Al Ahed late this Sunday evening in Oman. The Mariners played 12 matches compared to Al Ahed playing just six games, and Al Ahed will have the advantage of playing the final in similar Middle-Eastern conditions without having to travel halfway across the world to get there. If the Mariners win they will pocket a well-deserved payday of $2.3 million.

Nestory Irankunda

After sealing a move from Adelaide to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich back in November, the wonderkid had a dip in performance mid-season, but came roaring back to form later in the season with even more goals for his highlight reel, including a hat-trick against Western United and yet another thunderous right-foot missile against Macarthur. He finished the season with eight goals and six assists.

Golden Boot

Adam Taggart scored 20 goals in 25 games despite playing for a poor Perth Glory that finished with the wooden spoon. Taggart’s stellar form earnt him a call up for the World Cup qualifiers against Lebanon. Closely followed by Bruno Fornaroli with 18 goals in just 21 matches, Bruno missed several games while away on Socceroos duties at the Asia Cup in Qatar. Newcastle Jets young gun Apostolos Stamatelopoulos finished third with 17 goals in 25 matches and must surely be close to a Socceroos debut soon.

Adam Taggart celebrates a goal for Perth Glory. (Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

Goals! Goals! Goals!

Records tumbled with the most ever goals this season at 3.33 per match. There were closely-fought high-scoring thrillers, high-scoring draws and some absolute beltings with goals galore in almost every round:
Round 2: Victory 5 Newcastle Jets 3, Adelaide 6 City 0, Wanderers 5 Western 0
Round 3: Phoenix 5 Roar 2
Round 4: Sydney 5 Adelaide 1, City 3 Macarthur 3
Round 6: Macarthur 4 Adelaide 3
Round 7: Victory 4 Wanderers 3
Round 9: Sydney 4 Western 2
Round 10: Mariners 4 Perth 2, City 8 Roar 1
Round 12: City 7 Wanderers 0
Round 15: Macarthur 4 Wanderers 3, Perth 4 City 2
Round 16: Wanderers 3 Jets 3, Adelaide 3 Perth 3, Brisbane 5 City 1
Round 19: Sydney 4 Wanderers 1
Round 23: Adelaide 4 Perth 2, Western 4 Macarthur 2
Round 24: City 8 Perth 0
Round 25: Western 4 Perth 3
Round 26: Adelaide 4 Brisbane 3, Victory 4 Wanderers 3, Sydney 7 Perth 1
Round 27: Wellington 4 Perth 3, Adelaide 4 Sydney 3, Macarthur 3 Western 3 (played in January)

Owners found for Perth Glory

After a long, drawn-out search, property mogul Ross Pelligra was confirmed as Perth Glory’s new owner bringing some much-needed stability and financial security to the Glory, and establishing a foundation for manager Alen Stajcic and his players to build on for next season. Perth were poor this season and the ownership uncertainty must surely have affected the players and coaching staff’s mentality.

New owners for Newcastle Jets appear to have been found

Three days ago Newcastle coach Robbie Stanton hinted that a deal was close saying “I don’t want to say it’s done until you actually see a piece of paper and it’s signed, but I’m pretty confident that something is happening”. And yesterday PFA co-chief Kathryn Gill said that the PFA “has received assurances from the Jets’ management that the club will play in the A-Leagues next season”, with a group of Melbourne-based businessmen apparently close to announcing a deal.

Auckland FC

Nicknamed the Black Knights, they are bankrolled by billionaire Bill Foley, owner of Premier League team AFC Bournemouth. Auckland will start next season with former Sydney FC coach Steve Corica at the helm. They have reportedly already signed around a dozen players including the Kiwi Messi Marco Rojas and former Liverpool and Melbourne Victory player Jake Brimmer with the other signings New Zealand internationals and Kiwi youth talent.

Steve Corica. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

National Second Tier

Run by FA and rumoured to be called the Australian Championship, it will start in autumn 2025 and be played over the winter with eight clubs from NSW and Victoria already revealed and more clubs to be announced in the coming weeks. The teams admitted so far are: Apia Leichhardt, Avondale, Marconi Stallions, Preston Lions, South Melbourne, Sydney Olympic, Sydney United, and Wollongong Wolves. The inclusion of only NSW and Victorian clubs led to accusations of a South-East coast bias, so hopefully the other clubs added are from other states.

A-League Women record crowds, Matildas’ veteran rolls back the years

Average crowds are up from 1,336 to 2,208 this season, an increase of around 65 per cent, led by Sydney FC’s season-high 11,471 opening derby match against Western Sydney Wanderers. The return derby at Wanderers had a crowd of 9,577. Both semi-finals last weekend had great crowds: Central Coast and Sydney FC saw 7,063 fans attend, and Newcastle Jets versus Melbourne City had 6,836 fans. The December Melbourne derby saw 6,286 watch City against Victory.

Michelle Heyman scored 17 goals to take out the Golden Boot and was also second in assists with seven in a poor Canberra United that also got the wooden spoon. This resulted in the 35-year-old being called up for the Matildas after making her last appearance in 2016. This season was the first time that both Men’s and Women’s Golden Boot winners came from the two teams that finished last.

Michelle Heyman of Canberra United. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

The Grand Final in Melbourne pits heavyweights Melbourne City (three premierships and four championships) against Sydney FC (five premierships and four championships).

Macarthur Bulls and Western United’s improved crowds, Western’s new stadium

Admittedly coming from a very low base, Macarthur had a record crowd for their recent derby against Sydney, 7,723, which brought their season average up to 4,161.

Western United had a similar recent high of 6,265, and a season average of 3,274. Bearing in mind that they were homeless for most of the season, this average will surely increase next season when they play most of their home fixtures at their actual home. Along with Adelaide’s Coopers Stadium, Western’s new stadium when finished will provide one of the few boutique football stadium experiences in Australia.

Young player transfers to European leagues

In addition to Irankunda’s move to Bayern Munich, we saw a number of young players make the move overseas to Europe. Some of the more notable include:
Joe Gauci: Adelaide to Aston Villa
Steven Hall: Adelaide to Brighton
Jordan Bos: Melbourne City to Westerlo
Tom Glover: Melbourne City to Middlesborough
Aiden O’Neill: Melbourne City to Standard Liege
Calem Nieuwenhof: Western Sydney Wanderers to Hearts
Kuseni Yengi: Western Sydney Wanderers to Portsmouth
Anthony Pavlesic: Central Coast Mariners to Bayern Munich
Nector Triantis: Central Coast Mariners to Sunderland
Musa Toure: Adelaide to an as yet unnamed French Ligue One team

A-League Men’s attendances

While some would argue that attendances are not a positive, I would argue otherwise with four clubs -Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory, Western Sydney Wanderers, Adelaide United – all averaging above 10,000 to get pass marks. While the league average was a low 8,076, this was brought down by Perth being ownerless for most of the season, Newcastle still not having an owner, the Red and Black Block’s boycotts of some Wanderers games, Western United not having a home ground for most of the season, and Macarthur’s low attendances earlier in the season. Sydney FC led the way with an average of 14,375 and a high of 28,152 for the Western Sydney Wanders’ derby. Melbourne Victory had a high of 20,107 with an average of 12,352, while WSW had a high of 27,998 for the derby against Sydney and an average of 10,326. Meanwhile, Adelaide United, with one of the best places to watch football in Australia at Coopers Stadium, had a high of 12,859 and an average of 10,035. An honourable mention goes to Wellington, with a crowd of 18,002 earlier in the season against Sydney FC, and 15,428 at the Cake Tin for their final game of the season to finish with an average of just under 9000.

41 seconds that prove what a special club @WgtnPhoenixFC are ???? 15,000 fans streaming onto the pitch for an all-in club photo – Incredible!

What a way to commemorate a magic season ???? pic.twitter.com/ohpmi6kz6j

— Isuzu UTE A-League (@aleaguemen) April 29, 2024

Upcoming finals series

In a dream outcome for the APL, this weekend’s two elimination finals see Melbourne and Sydney derbies with Sydney FC hosting Macarthur on Saturday evening and Melbourne Victory hosting Melbourne City on Sunday afternoon. The high-pressing Sydney have the marauding Joe Lolley, Macarthur the brilliance of their captain Ulises Davila and Filip Kurto, Victory have an in-form Daniel Arzani and Bruno “El Tuna” Fornaroli, and City have a rampaging Tolgay Arslan and Zinedine Machach.

Wellington Phoenix, who had their best-ever season, and Central Coast Mariners, await the winners of those two elimination finals.

Australian football and the A-Leagues have a multitude of positives for the fans to savour and as Australian football supporters we need to focus on these. The successes of the Central Coast Mariners, the little club that could, both at home and abroad, the emergence of young players breaking through to the A-League and also moving overseas, more goals than ever before, owners found for Perth and Newcastle, Auckland FC joining the competition next season, the formation of the National Second Tier Australian Championship, the greatly increased A-League women’s attendances, and the standard of play this season being the highest ever.

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There really is a lot to celebrate.

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