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Jets headline a winning weekend for Aussie football

by Sebastian Hassett on Oct 10, 2011

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What a weekend for the A-League and for football in general in this country. Yes, the Wallabies were heroic against South Africa and Garth Tander equally so on the mountain but the round ball game kicked the goals that mattered.

The rest of the sporting world often takes every opportunity it can to kick lumps out of football - and that's not a victim mentality either, it's a fact. They queue up to sink the boot in when our game is suffering.

And right now, we're experiencing something of a renaissance. I'm not naive to think everything is suddenly fine [the crowds at Sunday's matches are proof of the distance that remains] but the good ship football is definitely pointing in the right direction.

Enough has been written about Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton in the past week to make you think they negotiated a new Middle East peace deal, so I'm going to skip them for now [Harry was excellent, for what it's worth]. Let's talk about Newcastle.

For as long as I've been on the football beat at the SMH, the Jets have been an endless source of news, speculation, gossip and innuendo. Something is always happening with that club, be it good or great, evil or awful. They never cease to amaze me.

So it was again on Saturday. With the Big Blue to the south and a grand final re-match to the north, attention seemed to be elsewhere. As it turned out, the best seat in the house was ringside at Ausgrid Stadium for street brawl between the Jets and the Heart.

Let's not beat around the bush: this was a horror week in Newcastle. The sacking of Branko Culina, who helped restore the club's dignity, and that of his son Jason, the biggest not-over-the-hill name to ever sign for a Newcastle club, rocked the Hunter football community to the core. The reasons are still unclear. There's a mountain of rumours as to why, much of which can't be divulged just yet.

That said, there was a game that still needed playing four days after the sensational revelations. Craig Deans stepped into the managerial void and did a sterling job at getting his players to focus on the job at hand. After the match, he admitted his players were so keyed up for the contest that in the hour before kick off, they probably shed too much nervous energy in the dressing room. But like a good jockey on an eager horse, he settled them and arranged them into line and put them in a position to win.

In the end, the Jets were plainly lucky to get the points, as evidenced by Sung-Hwan Byun's freakish winner. Melbourne Heart probably shaded it on the day - especially in the first half - and had it not been for the awesome sight of Ryan Griffiths in full flight, the visitors might have nabbed all three points. He's a super bet for the Golden Boot, by the way.

The pleasing sign for the Heart was the sight of seven new players coming into the team and not looking overawed. The pick of the bunch was Fred, who played in a more central role than we knew him at Melbourne Victory, and he pulled the strings expertly. His deft touch, vision and positioning is a delight to watch and I can't wait to see more of him as the season rolls on.

However, who I'm most pleased for was not any of the players, nor any coach, but the fans. Some 12,500 paying customers turned up for the match, an excellent first-up attendance, and nearly all of them should return in the coming weeks. I've long spoken about the Jets potential to pull a crowd, especially when they're winning. They've done it before and they can do it again.

Should Deans and his team go on a small run of wins, watch the fans flock back to Ausgrid Stadium. It's been a long time coming.