'Buzz' in Newcastle for grand final, says captain Nigel Boogaard
After eight years of pain and suffering, Newcastle's football community has come alive.
Traditionally a hotbed for the round-ball game, diehards in the Hunter Valley have had to put up with some absolutely turgid performances in recent times -- as well as a cavalcade of embarrassing headlines.
Five sacked coaches. Two wooden spoons. And one erratic ex-billionaire owner who even managed to infect the city's other professional team, the NRL's Newcastle Knights, with a stench of sporting failure that seemed impossible to remove.
The Newcastle Jets are just one win away from completing the ultimate turnaround. If Ernie Merrick's side beat Melbourne Victory in Saturday's A-League decider they'll become the first team in 84 years to go from last place to champions in successive seasons across any of Australia's four major football codes.
It's also the first time a regional city has hosted a grand final in any of them, and the excitement in the air is palpable.
The stars have aligned in the most remarkable way for the Jets, who will have a ferocious parochial backing when they walk out onto a sold-out McDonald Jones Stadium.
"It's important for the boys to feel that connection with the community," said captain Nigel Boogaard, who was playing for Newcastle's bitter rivals -- Central Coast -- when the Jets won their only A-League title in 2008.
"There's a buzz around town at the moment and it's good for the boys to really soak that in and understand what it means for this community.
"But also not get carried away -- there's still a job to be done.
"It's great to have so many supporters out at training the other day and watch us go through our paces.
"That just emphasises how much it means to this town and this football community that we go out there and represent them."
Even Victory coach Kevin Muscat believes A-League chiefs made the right decision by staging the match in Newcastle instead of Sydney or elsewhere -- even if he is intent on spoiling the occasion.
"Greg [O'Rourke] at the FFA has made a great call because they've earned that right to host the grand final," Muscat said.
"We come here with a great deal of enthusiasm and belief.
"We respect the opposition. It's certainly going to be a tough game."