The Central Coast Mariners arrive at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium for tonight’s first leg of their A-League semi-final against Sydney FC as newly crowned AFC Cup Champions, after their 1-0 win over Lebanon’s Al-Ahed last Sunday.

That result, in the 34 degree heat of Muscat’s Sultan Qaboos Sports Stadium, proved the deserved cap on one of the great feats by an Australian club side. Charting over 100,000 kilometres through their twelve matches, against little-known opposition in foreign conditions, Mark Jackson’s side tapped their ‘little club that could’ ethos and wrung it for all it was worth.

Sunday’s final swung on a key moment in each half. On 24 minutes, veteran keeper Danny Vukovic needed every fibre of his 39-year old frame to keep Lee Erwin’s header from goal; on 83 minutes, Alou Kuol’s strike made its way through the legs of Mostafa Matar, and into Mariners folklore.

‘There’s a bit of recency bias, but at the moment, that’s the greatest moment in the history of the football club’, Luke Byrne of CoastFM 963 told Box2Box from Muscat, shortly after the full time whistle.

‘Grand Finals are fantastic, but when you walk onto the continental stage the lights are bright. The amount of people working behind the scenes [on this tournament] would have outnumbered the crowd and to see this club walk out, representing a community of just under 300,000, and let everyone know who the Mariners are, was just a special occasion.

‘The game was pretty average, to be honest, but the Mariners did what they had to do, had one chance and Alou Kuol was able to take it. It was a night where fingers where crossed given they’d worked so hard, endured so much travel. To finally get to the big stage here in Oman was incredible.’

Now just the second side to win an Asian club competition, after the Wanderers’ famous 2014 Champions League title, the Mariners extraordinarily stand on the verge of a rare domestic treble. The remaining piece is to retain the A-League Championship, just three games away.

‘This is the first Australian side to have won the Premiers Plate and an Asian continental cup in the same season. They’ve played 40 games this campaign in all competitions, and they were slow out of the gates (losing their first four league matches, and AFC Cup opener against Terengganu FC).

‘[Club Director] Richard Peil said last night that [at the time] we were struggling. We lost six Grand Final players: Jason Cummings, James McGarry, Nectar Triantis, Sam Silvera, Beni N’Kololo, then halfway through the season, Marco Tulio. This is a new side, built around youth.

‘Josh Nisbet is the star, of course, but look at Bradd Tapp, Miguel Di Pizio who have come through the academy, and Jacob Farrell, the best left-back in the country at the moment. That’s what the Club is built on: being a community club, developing youth, and giving them an opportunity to shine.’

Backing up against Sydney FC just five days later will prove an immense challenge, and Mark Jackson and his crew will have some tactical work to do on the flight home. Ufuk Talay’s Sky Blues are the only team to have beaten the Mariners in their past 32 matches, doing so twice in February and March.

The decision to schedule their semi-final on Friday when Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory don’t meet until Sunday afternoon has been attributed to ground availability, although there are plenty who will also add one to the APL’s chaos act tally.

‘They are tired, but will look at it as an opportunity. The turnaround hasn’t been great and the A-Leagues really haven’t supported this trip to Muscat, but Mark Jackson will see it as another opportunity. In the first leg I expect they’ll probably sit back, absorb any pressure and try and hit them on the counter, before all out attack in Gosford in the second.’