The frosty relationship between Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick and Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat has become even colder, after they accused each other of failing to shake hands during Victory's 1-0 win over the Jets on Saturday night.
Merrick and Muscat were a formidable coach and captain duo at Melbourne Victory, winning two A-League grand finals between 2005 and 2011. However since then, and especially since 2017 when Merrick became coach of the Jets while Muscat continued his time at the helm of Victory, the relationship has soured.
Victory won Saturday night's grand final re-match at Hunter Stadium courtesy of a brilliant second-half strike by Terry Antonis. In the post match press conference a journalist asked Merrick to "elaborate" on suggestions the Jets coach couldn't find Muscat to shake hands straight after the final whistle.
"I walked over to the bench to shake hands as I did with the assistant coach, the goalkeeping coach, the fitness coach but Kevin sprinted in the opposite direction over to his fans and I wasn't going to chase him," Merrick said. "But that's just the way he is."
Merrick also suggested former Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold may have had a similar experience with Muscat.
"I was looking forward to a handshake," Merrick said. "He's the one that disappeared, I mean I don't make a big thing of it but it's just disappointing, really. He won the game, should be happy."
The same journalist told Muscat that "Ernie's apparently made some mention after the game that he went to shake your hand and you declined".
To which Muscat responded: "I didn't see Ernie. That's a lie. One of you are lying".
"I was also waiting for a handshake prior to the game and there was none, which normally happens when you're the home team," Muscat said.
"If you watch the footage I shook all the officials' hands, and all their players' hands. So, it is what it is.
"I don't mean to jump down your throat but if you're going to assassinate someone's character, I know you're only passing the message, but it's a lie."
The handshake incident comes after Merrick refused to have a joint press conference with Muscat before the Jets and Victory grand final in May. It was the first time in A-League history there was no joint coaches' press conference before a grand final.
Victory won the game on Newcastle's home turf 1-0, thanks to a controversial Kosta Barbarouses goal that should have been ruled out by VAR for offside in the build-up, but the technology suffered a malfunction.
"One thing we want to do here in Newcastle is host a wonderful grand final and show our hospitality," Merrick told Macquarie Radio at the time.
"The last thing I wanted was a joint press conference descending downwards and it becoming about the coaches one way or another.
"I think we're the only country in the world that has joint press conferences with coaches before a match."
"I've moved on. I don't know if Kevin Muscat has regarding our time," he said.