Posted September 01, 2018 00:18:15

Usain Bolt of the Mariners is tackled by Daniel Bird of Central Coast Select in Gosford. Photo: Usain Bolt made his trial debut in a 20-minute cameo for the Mariners against a Central Coast Select XI. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

In his previous life as the world’s leading track star, Usain Bolt’s night’s work was usually concluded in under 10 seconds.

On Friday night, at Gosford’s Central Coast Stadium, he was given slightly longer to impress in his first match outing in Australian football — 19 minutes to be precise.

A short time to draw definitive conclusions. But on what evidence was available, the suspicion remains that Usain Bolt is not a professional standard footballer.

Not yet, at least.

“I look at it like when I just started running,” he said afterwards. “I had to learn everything and figure out what I needed to do to get better.

“It’s a career and I’m taking him it serious and want to go as far as I possibly can. When I started track and field I didn’t know how great I was going to be.”

And we all know how that ended.

Near misses give a hint of hope

Usain Bolt gives the thumbs up. Photo: Bolt came on for the final 19 minutes of the trial match. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

The first night review could have been tantalisingly different.

As the clock ticked past 90 minutes a low cross evaded his outstretched boot by inches with the goal at his mercy; another effort from inside the box was scuffed wide.

Had those half chances been taken, however, it would have only masked the scale of the challenge before him.

Many of the touches he had were uncertain. He seemed unsure positionally, and admitted to nerves early on.

Hope was not entirely extinguished in Gosford on Friday. But nor was optimism fuelled.

His coach, Mike Mulvey, was unperturbed by the underwhelming showing, even suggesting “the big fella did ok”. And preached patience. As well as a policy of fitness-first.

“One of my friends in sport said: Do not ever ask anybody to do something technical and tactical unless you’ve got the physical capability to do it,” he said.

“So I’m not going to judge him if he can’t zip past somebody or get on the end of a header: we’ve got to get him fit, so we’ve got to give him time.

“I’ll give him 12 months if required.”

Huge crowd for pre-season friendly demonstrates Bolt-effect

The eight-time Olympic gold medalist and 100m and 200m world record holder has filled mega-stadiums from Beijing to London to Rio and beyond.

There were fewer spectators in Gosford on Friday than for an Olympics 100m final. But the fervour to witness Bolt in action still palpable.

Just under 10,000 turned out for a pre-season friendly that last year struggled to attract 300 die-hards with entrance set at a gold coin donation.

To put that figure in further perspective, last season, when the Mariners finished rock bottom of the ladder, their highest attendance was 12,044, and they averaged 7,194.

And yet for all the good will directed his way, the difficulty of the task Bolt is attempting cannot be overstated.

Elite sport has a rich history of code jumping. But none have successfully crossed the bridge he is trying to navigate.

When Jarrod Hayne briefly threatened to forge a new career in the NFL having taken the leap of faith to leave rugby league, he was lauded for his modest achievements.

But the truth is that however difficult it was to absorb the intricacies of a new sport, he was still picking up a ball and trying to take it as far forward as he could before opponents brought him down.

Likewise, when Israel Folau leaps for a high cross field ball to launch — or even finish — a Wallabies attack, a facsimile of an AFL mark is evident for all to see.

To morph from a track sprinter to a nimble winger? The obstacles are many. It showed on Friday night.

Bolt the only real superstar on show

A boy holds an Usain Bolt mask in front of his face. Photo: About 10,000 fans showed up for the pre-season friendly. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Bolt’s previous match was in an exhibition game in Paris earlier this year, to mark the 20th anniversary of France’s 1998 World Cup win. He shared pitch with football royalty — among them Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane and Patrick Viera.

No such recognisable names were on Friday night’s team-sheet.

The Mariners themselves have honest, experienced professionals but no superstars of note. Less so their opponents, a Central Coast Select XI drawn from the local league. Amateurs and part-timers.

As such the game itself was as one-sided as ought to have been expected.

A Mariners goal within the opening minute from Jack Clibsy set the tone. Four more had been added before the break, a sixth before Bolt’s introduction.

The only goal thereafter was a screaming free kick from the Select XI’s Tim Knight. In that, the Killarney District player can claim to have upstaged Bolt in the period he was on the pitch.

Something to tell the grandkids.

Bolt remains confident his ambitious plan to transform himself, aged 32, from the greatest sprinter of all time in to a professional soccer player worthy of an A-League contract will ultimately prove successful, even despite the inconclusive showing on his opening night.

“In four months time I’ll be fit and getting a lot more time on the ball. I feel I’ll get a contract by then,” he said.

“It’s just about working and taking my time.”

As a thousands photos of him hugging oversized electronic clocks will testify, time has usually been under Bolt’s command.

However, for the erstwhile fastest man on the planet, the chances of fulfilling his post-athletics dream, it seems, will be defined by a marathon rather than a sprint.

Topics: sport, soccer, a-league, gosford-2250, sydney-2000, nsw, australia, jamaica