A-League's Central Coast Mariners eye $2.3m AFC Cup payday

After travelling nearly 100,000km on trips to six different countries and being stranded in Kyrgyzstan, the Central Coast Mariners' Asian journey is approaching the finish line.

And the best part for Mariners boss Mark Jackson is that his side remain in the hunt for a historic quadruple as they bid to clinch the A-League Men premiership and retain their championship to sit alongside the A-League Club Championship they won this month.

- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Australian clubs have often been accused of failing to take Asian football seriously. But few could doubt the Mariners' commitment to the AFC Cup, Asia's second-tier competition, with the Gosford-based club potentially just two games from winning the trophy and netting $2.3 million in prize money.

Jackson, who joined the Mariners at the start of the season after an ill-fated stint at the helm of English fourth-tier outfit Milton Keynes Dons, likes it, simply for the fact his loyalty program has jumped up to silver after travelling to Malaysia twice, the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, India, Kyrgyzstan and Campbelltown.

But juggling domestic and continental duties has also had its drawbacks. Last Wednesday, after the club claimed a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their inter-zone playoff final against Kyrgyz club Abdysh-Ata Kant, they were stuck in the capital of Bishkek because of flooding at Dubai airport.

A lack of hotel rooms meant the players were forced to share beds until they got home via Seoul 48 hours later than expected.

"We went to explore the mountains and had a two-hour hike, and we said, 'No phones allowed,' so we were interacting with each other," Jackson told AAP. "Some of the boys had never seen snow before and we got quite high up to show them some snow, so it was a really good experience and chance to bond.

"We could've easily sat in our hotel and done nothing, but we agreed as a group we wanted to make the most of the opportunity.

"Kyrgyzstan is a place I never thought I'd visit, but the whole experience was quite surreal and it's a beautiful country."

The Mariners host the second leg in Gosford on Wednesday, when a win would get them to the final. If they can get past either Lebanese outfit Al Ahed or Oman's Al Nahda, they would become the first Australian club to win Asian silverware since Western Sydney Wanderers' mesmerising Champions League run in 2014.

The Mariners' delayed return to Australia has, however, had a flow-on effect and dampened hopes of a grand-stand finish to the regular A-League Men season.

Central Coast and Wellington Phoenix have been fighting it out all year to finish first, but the Mariners will now have the upper hand, with their potentially decisive fixture against Adelaide United falling after the Phoenix's last game. It also gives Jackson's side a chance to finish the season with three trophies.

"We feel we've approached things in the right manner, but we're under no illusions, we have some big hurdles to overcome," Jackson said.

"But we're fully focused, I'm excited for the run-in for the premiership and to get my first experience of finals football.

"Momentum is a big thing, so we'll try to keep that going and keep our focus there. The lads and staff have been fantastic and we have to keep pushing that."