Nearly-man Marriott jumps the final hurdle . . . at last
BEING the 'nearly man' has been a bugbear of Alan Marriott throughout his career.
Five play-off campaigns with Lincoln City, twice reaching the final, he still never won promotion.
Then he reached the FA Trophy final with Mansfield in 2011 at Wembley – but was on the losing side.
Add to that last season's play-off semi-final heartache with Stags against York, it was another nearly moment.
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He could taste the prize, but the 34-year-old just couldn't quite get his hands on it.
So when Mansfield forced a replay against his former club Lincoln in the second round of the FA Cup thanks to Matt Rhead's last-gasp strike, he watched the draw with anticipation.
He has been out for ten weeks with a shoulder injury but knew he was about to return for the replay.
And when ball 23 came out of the velvet bag at Wembley and the name Liverpool was read out, once again he had a chance to achieve something big.
A third round tie against the five-time European champions.
Marriott has never been to the third round before as a player, let alone meet a Premier League big gun in it.
One match stood between him, the Stags and that prize.
And as he ran out at the One Call Stadium last Wednesday on a freezing night in north Nottinghamshire, in just his second match back, he just did not want to be the 'nearly man' again.
Finally, thanks to Louis Briscoe's late strike, Marriott managed to get over that final hurdle.
It might not be a cup final or a promotion, but to land that prize of Liverpool was the goal and it is something he will treasure forever.
"I have had a lot of games in my career and a lot of big games but that is definitely right up there," said the goalkeeper.
"The atmosphere was great, it was so tense as well because there was so much to play for.
"It would not have been so tense had we not known the prize going into it but for once I have come out on the winning side to get the prize at the end of it so I am over the moon.
"I have had a lot of heartbreak. For five years I had two play-off finals, three semis. Then I missed out last year in the semis of the play-offs and I have never been in the third round as a player.
"To now get Liverpool is fantastic and it is something I wanted so much before the game, as well."
Another bonus for Marriott is that he will be able to lead his two boys out onto the pitch as mascots for the game, which will be shown live on ESPN on Sunday, January 6 at 4pm.
Not only will he be charged with keeping out the likes of Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard, his sons will get the opportunity to rub shoulders with them too.
And for a man who is entering the twilight of his long career, that will be a special moment.
But beating the team he played almost a decade for, becoming a legend at Lincoln, did make last week's victory a little bittersweet.
For he still lives in Lincoln, his family are supporters of the Imps.
But that could not take the smile off his face as the victory was met with a few days off for the players, who had no game at the weekend due to being out of the FA Trophy.
They are next in action in the Blue Square Bet Premier on Saturday, when they travel to Hyde.
That could not be any different to what the FA Cup is about to bring but while the league is the main focus, Marriott cannot stop himself from thinking to what the first week of the new year will bring.
"I wanted to get through so that I could take my little boys out as mascots in a game that means something, not just a friendly," said Marriott.
"To do that against Liverpool will be nice and an emotional occasion to share with my two boys.
"They are five and two so the little one is probably a little too young but the five-year-old is really into his football now and in his school assembly they were talking about this game and how if Lincoln win, they could play Liverpool.
"Obviously he sees it from the Mansfield perspective but I am just chuffed for myself to have reached the third round.
"During the game you could not lose focus because it is such a big game financially and the chairman has put a lot of money into it so to have a nice day out and get rewarded is great. The same goes for the fans as well who have been through a lot of heartbreak.
"Obviously, I am gutted for Lincoln because I had a long time there, know a lot of people there and have a lot of friends there so I am sickened in one way. But I am pleased to be on the winning team."
As for his shoulder, which he dislocated back at the end of September, it is still on the mend.
But Marriott is just delighted to be back playing at such a crucial moment in his career.
"I am pleased to be back and it seems to have been a long, old road," he said. "The injury has niggled and I am still not 100 per cent but sometimes you have to go with it.
"I am still three weeks ahead of schedule so great credit goes to the physio and the manager, who has pushed me at times when I thought I was not ready to go back in."
One thing that had to be cancelled because of the replay was the players' Christmas bash.
It has still to be rescheduled, as chairman John Radford hosted a Christmas party of his own yesterday.
But Marriott said that their festive fun being axed was not something they were too worried about.
"We have lost our Christmas 'do' but we can go out anytime," said Marriott.
"It's not every day you get to play Liverpool."