Agony to ecstasy: Reborn Vukovic ready to lead Mariners

At 39, Danny Vukovic knows the end of the line is approaching.

But someone ought to tell Vukovic that’s the case, because he doesn’t look like it and the numbers back it up.

Vukovic will lead the Central Coast Mariners out in Saturday’s A-League Men grand final against Melbourne Victory, 18 years after being part of the competition’s first ALM decide.

Registering a league-high 13 clean sheets en route to an A-League premiership, the goalkeeper has shown few signs that time is against him this season.

Vukovic, whose professional career began back in the old NSL as a 17-year-old for Parramatta Power, is still savoring every moment.

And given his form and the Mariners’ unprecedented success – which also includes the AFC Cup – why would he want to give it up?

Danny Vukovic (front centre) has led the Central Coast Mariners into the A-League Men grand final. (James Gourley/AAP PHOTOS)

“You hope for the best and I wanted a long career … but at this age to be playing it’s pretty crazy,” Vukovic told AAP.

“As captain, all I try to do is lead by example and work as hard as I possibly can, and hopefully the boys will see that, if I can do it at my age, then they can too.

“It is obviously on my mind, and at this age and you have to think about it (retirement).

“I’ll wait until the end of the season. I said last year after the grand final that I was done, but then after two weeks of the off-season I was ready to keep going.”

Vukovic’s leadership was singled out by Graham Arnold this week as a key reason for the Mariners’ revival, with the club now on the cusp of back-to-back championships.

But as well as revitalizing the Mariners, Vukovic has also had to breathe life back into his own career.

After struggling for game time with Dutch side NEC Nijmegen, the four-cap Socceroos goalkeeper, to his regret, took his frustration out in the weights room.

“I wasn’t playing at my club in Holland, so I got really stuck into pumping heavy weights and went a bit too hard,” Vukovic said.

“I had tears in each of my shoulders, in my rotator cuffs, which was quite painful. I couldn’t make saves at full stretch… it was just agony.

Danny Vukovic, making a save in the semi-final, kept a league-best 13 clean sheets this season. (James Gourley/AAP PHOTOS)

“Once it’s done it’s so hard to repair because you’re constantly training and re-injuring them.

“I played all of last season injured, but this year I’ve got them right and have been able to train at a much higher level, and I think my performances show that.”

Vukovic says he will come good on a promise to winger Christian Theoharous to dye his hair peroxide blonde if the Mariners win Saturday’s grand final.

He also has designs on another tattoo – Vukovic already has Mariners ink on his right thigh – to commemorate the club’s trophy-laden season.

“To be able to do what we’ve done this year may never be done again,” Vukovic said.

“What we’ve had to get through to be at this point is exceptional, and it’s an incentive to write some history.”