CENTRAL Coast Mariners coach Graham Arnold says his side's Premier's Plate success this term is the most important thing after they crashed out of the finals race after a penalty shootout preliminary final loss to Perth Glory on Saturday.
The Mariners clinched the A-League Premiership after finishing two points clear of Brisbane Roar after 27 rounds of football, but failed to reach the Championship decider after the defeat to Perth which ended 5-3 on penalties following a 1-1 draw.
However, Arnold insisted the Premier's Plate was the bigger honour, as it rewarded a team's efforts over the course of a full season.
“I’m a traditionalist and while of course we wanted another crack at Brisbane, for me the Premiership is more important because it rewards consistency,” Arnold said.
“Over 27 rounds our players were brilliant – I couldn’t be prouder of their efforts. I’ve said it many times that it’s a joy turning up at work each day.”
Arnold continued: “The Grand Final is obviously the Australian way and it's a beautiful way but it's cup football and it's totally different to what you do for 27 rounds. Our focus now is to get the last 16 in the ACL and that's more important for me than next week.”
The Mariners boss added he was furious with Glory's equaliser which came a minute after Central Coast went ahead, with Billy Mehmet appearing offside before cutting back for Shane Smeltz to score.
Last week the Mariners went a goal down early when Mitch Nichols appeared offside from Thomas Broich's freekick which beat keeper Mat Ryan and Arnold, who has been linked with a move to Sydney FC, fumed at his side's poor luck with refereeing decisions.
"You guys can write what you saw for their goal," he said. "Maybe it's time I went to a big club, because the small clubs don't get it, they don't get the decisions.
"The players are devastated. That's the thing that hurts the most, when you keep getting bad decisions. They're always asking why?"
Arnold added that he felt his side performed well but should've wrapped up the result in normal time after spurning a host of good chances including Patrick Zwaanswijk's penalty.
"We didn't take our chances. At the end of the day, you've got to take ownership of your own performance. The performance was great but we didn't take our chances," he said.
"We should've already been down in Sydney in the hotel gettting ready for South Korea. It should never have gone to extra-time."
Arnold also lamented the mid-season departures to Asia of key duo Rostyn Griffiths and Mat Simon.
"The loss of Matty Simon and Rostyn Griffiths... our form over the last ten weeks has been good but we probably haven't played the way we wanted to play. Losing the heart and soul of your team has hurt us quite badly," he said.
"John Hutchinson has been doing a fantastic job (in Griffiths' position) but we've missed Matty's goals and his work rate up front. It's disappointing that you build a team at the start of the season to try to be successful and then you have two of your best players sold and that makes things difficult."
As for Perth's hopes in the decider, Arnold said their style may be able to upset Brisbane but admitted it would be difficult for Glory.
"They'll find Brisbane very tough but they've got a lot of experienced players out there. They play a very direct and physical game and that might be the key to upsetting Brisbane," he said.