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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

Ezio Mormile: The humble but vital cog in the Mariners' "holistic" championship approach

Nick Montgomery's Central Coast Mariners marched to a unique championship run because of their impressive football and mental fortitude. Ezio Mormile has been involved with the club over the past four seasons in a specialised role and spoke to Front Page Football about what makes the Mariners tick from a psychological perspective.

Ezio Mormile, in his now famous "Nick Montgomery shirt", holds the A-League Men Championship trophy alongside Nick Montgomery and Sérgio Raimundo. (Ezio Mormile LinkedIn)


The Central Coast Mariners have always operated differently from their competition, and despite working with one of the more modest budgets in the A-League Men, the club has found space to employ a mindset coach. Ezio Mormile has been at the Mariners for four years. He was a part of the unit that helped upset a Melbourne City juggernaut in the Grand Final. But the club's mindset coach praised manager Nick Montgomery and assistant Sérgio Raimundo for their "holistic approach" to the football program.


"I always use a famous quote from JFK that goes, ‘Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan," Mormile told FPF when asked about the Mariners' success.


"In this project, I want to make sure that all the credit goes to Monty and Sergio because they really are the masters behind it. Their philosophy has always been to build the holistic capability of the athletes; that is, technical, tactical, physical, and mental; I obviously came in from the mental side.


"Even from the academy, we were working with the players from a young age around things like visualisation, self-talk, and those kind of concepts, and giving them the tools to adapt and develop from a mental perspective so they could handle pressure and expectations."


Being a regional club always having to punch above its weight, Mormile said that building a strong culture on the Central Coast was highlighted by Montgomery and Raimundo as vitally important. The club's key focus can be summed up by one word: "family". But where most see a simple concept, the Mariners detect an acronym for their key values.


"F stands for focus; we focus [on] what we can control," Mormile shared.


"A is the attitude, how we turn up. M is actually for Matt Simon; having the Matt Simon never say die, fearless mindset. I is inspire, and we did that with 20,000 people coming to our home ground. L is for leadership; we are all leaders. Y is for yourself, your purpose in life, and being more than just a footballer."

Having started his time at the club when Montgomery coached the NPL side, Mormile, whose background is outside of football, has grown to understand how the club operates. Importantly, he has seen players like Max Ballard develop from boys entering the senior NPL setup to fully-fledged professional footballers.


The mindset coach conducts group sessions while having scheduled meetings with all the players at the club; they can also approach him for a session when they feel they require one. Mormile believes taking care of the mental side is important for any player. The benefits become even more apparent with a team made up primarily of young footballers and players that have faced rejection elsewhere.


Mormile stressed the importance of looking after the footballers that walk through the club's doors and the people facing the same stress and expectation any job carries, let alone one broadcast for public scrutiny. While Montgomery, Raimundo, and their strength and conditioning staff take care of the game's physical, technical, and tactical aspects, Mormile wants to ensure the players feel a sense of mental freedom that can translate to on-pitch success.


He shared a story from the eve of the Grand Final highlighting this point.


"I gave every single player a hand-written letter before the Grand Final; I gave it to them the night before, and it said, 'Whatever happens, it won’t define who you are' because there is only one winner and they always will be more than just footballers," Mormile said.


"That is our big philosophy, and I would argue, the research is there, that this helps them play more naturally, to not fear failure. We do not want our players to fear failure; our philosophy is about sticking to the process. Nick and Sérgio established the process, and we stick to it."

The Mariners are not your typical club, and when Mormile was asked about his highlights from 2022/23, he did not take the usual route, singling out a loss as the moment he knew the squad could go a long way.


Early in the season, the Mariners were two goals and a man down against recently crowned Australia Cup champions Macarthur. Despite their grim situation, the Mariners fought back with two goals. They were so aggressive in pursuing all three points that they lost a thrilling game 3-2.


Instead of being shattered that his team's effort amounted to no points, Mormile was taken aback by the mentality of a young squad that played like it was entitled to a victory.


"The fact that these players had the belief and the mindset that they would go for the win, that they deserved to go for the win, to me, was a key moment," he said.


"That was them saying, ‘We are hungry’, and that they believe in the system, the process, each other, and themselves. We lost, but we learn a lot in life from failure; if you want to call it a failure, I call it a success because it was a big moment."


Such moments proved to be a rehearsal for the Finals Series, and when the Mariners conceded an early penalty at a raucous Coopers Stadium against Adelaide United in their Semi-Final first leg, which Craig Goodwin converted, a lesser side would have folded in the spotlight and accepted defeat. Instead, Montgomery's side came back to win 2-1, outclassing their opposition on the night.


"The mindset is very important there, to stay calm and focused on what we can control," Mormile shared.


"That is a good example, in a big game, in Adelaide, against a very good team; we are down after a few minutes, but that is ok; we weather the storm because we have been through that many times, we have been rehearsing throughout the year. It is the idea that we don’t focus on the scoreboard; it was 1-0 after five minutes, it doesn’t matter; we just stick to the plan because it is still a game of football."


A few weeks later, Mormile sat back and watched a side filled with players he had spent countless hours helping develop mentally put Melbourne City to the sword to the tune of a thumping 6-1 scoreline, ensuring David overcame Goliath in style. He described watching the match playing out as satisfaction in seeing the project Montgomery and Raimundo put together bearing fruit.


"It is very satisfying because they worked hard and smart for it, but it was also satisfying to see that plan implemented. I was very satisfied for Nick and Sérgio because they have been very calculated and they have worked very hard and smart for this for a long time. Seeing them put this together and then seeing it all come to life is a beautiful thing," Mormile added.


Mormile pointed out that the two coaches' work is extensive, arduous, and smart, which must be the case when working with a smaller budget. While stating that Montgomery and Raimundo had already started planning for the 2023/24 season only a week after the Grand Final triumph, Mormile shared two anecdotes that sum up the Central Coast Mariners' mentality, making the club the envy of Australian football.


"Nick was quoted saying that when he got the job, he was told it was a “poisoned chalice” because of the lack of budget, and he said, 'Good'. He just thinks about what we can develop with what we have. This is why I sometimes use the analogy of the statue of David, the Michelangelo quote when he was asked how he created that from a slab of marble, and he said, 'David was always there, I just had to chip away," Mormile said.


"We have a small structure, people like Matt Simon. There’s a famous photo Andy Bernal put on Instagram of when we were upgrading our gym, and Matt Simon was digging holes! Matt Simon said on the awards night, 'No one has a job description at this club.' If something needs to be done, someone will do it."

Matt Simon hard at work on the construction of the Central Coast Mariners' new gym facility. (Image supplied by Andy Bernal)


Grand Final celebrations spanned weeks after the triumph, with vibe manager Andy Bernal touring Gosford schools with the trophy and giving kids in the community an unforgettable experience. Mormile received his memorable experience the day after the Grand Final, with the players celebrating their achievements wearing replicas of the shirt the mindset coach is known to wear around the club, with the nicknames he has branded them attached on the back.


Mormile told Front Page Football that it all started before he worked with the Mariners after he had coffee with Montgomery at the airport. The future Mariners manager, who had worked with Mormile in the twilight of his playing career in Wollongong, left Mormile impressed with his vision, who knew he wanted to work for him one day after that moment.


Six months later, in Naples with his family, Mormile came across a shirt reminding him of Montgomery, which combined the Mariners' yellow and blue and the tartan pattern made famous in Scotland, the country the Mariners coach had represented early in his playing career.


"My wife came up to me and said, 'You’re not going to buy that shirt, are you? It's ugly!" Mormile said, recalling the moment.


"I said, 'Well, I was in two minds, but now I’ve made up my mind, I’m definitely going to buy it!' Then, as it happened, I started working with the Mariners and wearing it. Someone asked me one day where I got the shirt from, and I explained the story to them and how it is the 'Nick Montgomery shirt'.


"I would wear that shirt to every game, and whenever I’d run a session with the players, even when we went away, I would wear it on game day."


Mormile used the image of the shirt as part of a visualisation exercise initiated by Montgomery, which the players became fond of by paying tribute to their mindset coach during their eventual championship celebrations.

"We visualised winning the Grand Final, and we visualised the photo; this is a Nick Montgomery idea. He got the photo of when we last won 10 years ago, and after every win, we would change a face. We would put a current player on there or a staff member, and I did say to the players that when we do this photo again, I will be wearing that shirt. I could visualise it because it is the shirt I wear on game day," Mormile said.


As visualised, the Mariners won the championship, and Mormile was wearing his shirt. Little did he know that all the players would be hours later as well.


"They all went down and got them (replicas of his shirt). I wasn’t aware of it, but they are all great young men, great footballers. But above all, they are great human beings, and they can have a laugh; I took it as a beautiful compliment," Mormile added.


"The F in F.A.M.I.L.Y is for focus but also for fun. I believe in life it is about that state of flow and getting people to enjoy themselves and each other. We want that culture where we demand a lot from each other but where we can also have fun in the process because life is short."

 

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The Central Coast Mariners players imitate Mormile during their championship celebrations. (KeepUp)


In a world with more distractions than ever, Mormile stressed that teams taking a "holistic" approach like the Mariners, while incorporating the mental aspect of the game, can prove to be a point of difference. He pointed out that NFL and NBA teams in the United States have begun recognising this fact and are heavily investing in the field.


Mormile again heaped praise on the Mariners and Montgomery and Raimundo for balancing their priorities regarding the football program, considering the club's tight budget, pointing out that their experience at the top level of European football is a factor that helps in decision-making.


With mixed results and confidence being a reality of any sport, Mormile highlighted that despite a successful past two years, the Mariners have had their lean streaks of form, where the only thing the club could do was adequately prepare players to shake off their woes when they come up.


"This year, we went through what I call the 42 days of hell, where I think we only picked up seven points out of 28; last year, we had nine games without a win. It happens, and we have to manage that with our capabilities as a club. But also for the players to be able to manage it because it is a part of life, we embrace it, and we want the players to be ready for it when it comes," Mormile said.


As players debut younger than ever in environments posing them with unprecedented pressures, Mormile agreed that all clubs must physically and mentally protect their young players.


"If you look at the age bracket, we have a few 17-year-olds all the way to (Danny) Vukovic at 38; some have children, some are learning how to drive, but they are all competing for positions. There are some very talented athletes that come up that have never been dropped because they are always the first picked and very talented. Suddenly, in this environment, it is very competitive, and they get dropped, so they have to have the skills early to deal with that," he said.


A club like the Mariners, whose administration has not been shy about its limited finances, can make room in their budget for personnel like Mormile, who is being tasked with tooling the players, either at the beginning or the end of their careers, with skills to overcome adversity on and off the field. The big hitters should be looking to replicate the example.


Many clubs will look at blooding young players like the Mariners have done the past couple of seasons and expect similar results. But without the foresight, planning, and communication of a duo like Montgomery and Raimundo, or the skills of a trained professional like Mormile, many may find they are missing vital pieces of their respective puzzles.


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