Grand Final Fever

Been a while since the last home game at Kogarah. After missing out on seeing the Premiership win at Cromer, there was no keeping us away from the W-League semi-final and a chance to do it all again in the Grand Final next Sunday.

Fresh from Aurelia’s NPLW Under 14 debut in the Eastern Suburbs, it was a quick turnaround for a 12 noon rendezvous at Michelle‘s place, and the mini-crew for this fascinating encounter was completed with women’s football nut Carla. A bit of traffic through the Olympic Park area with the Easter Show in full swing, and some inept navigation from yours truly, got us to Kogarah well after 1pm. This time we were heading to a new spot (for me anyway) for pre-game. I’m now a proud member of the Kogarah Clubhouse. I’m pretty sure I recouped the $11 fee for the five year membership with my first round of drinks, and with the Service NSW Dine vouchers and my birthday giving discounts, it all seemed very good value. We’ll be back.

Giving ourselves plenty of time to get to the stadium, there was only one gate open, the main Gate A, and a queue was forming. A welcome sight. It would be a good crowd, right? We were ushered past a healthy number of green shirts up to the Cove end of the main stand as Michelle made her way to her meeting spot as a flag bearer for pre-game.

Aurelia saw her Gladesville Ravens NPL teammate Anna, who was part of Rossco‘s army of ball girls, Michelle valiantly held on to her flag in the gusty wind that blew across the field. Great to be involved in some way in the success of the Sydney FC women’s team.

The game was a little delayed, the advertised 3pm kick off time coming and going with the mascots all waiting patiently. The stadium was very busy in the lower concourse of the main stand, and a smattering of fans were on the hill at the far side staring right into the sun. The crowd was a heady mix, a lot of families coming from all over Sydney and Canberra to share the love. As a result, the high-pitched chanting of the crowd was akin to a swimming carnival, with chants of ‘Let’s go Sydney, let’s go’ being drowned out by ‘Let’s go Canberra, let’s go’ and vice-versa. It did though give some atmosphere to what tends to be a shy crowd. The Cove was closed today.

The game started at a frantic pace. With the mysterious omission of Michelle Heyman causing ripples in the crowd, Canberra took the game to the hosts, and should have scored early on, a cross flashed across the six yard box and only just diverted wide. The defensive powerhouse Nat Tobin then hesitated to let her player past and had goalkeeper Jada Whyman to thank for making the save. Could Canberra cause an upset? The game took a big turn on the quarter hour though when Princess Ibini was afforded space down the left, Claire Wheeler spotted teammate Mackenzie Hawkesbury at the far post, and the pinpoint cross was swept home confidently on the volley. Lovely stuff from the girls in blue. Wheeler was having a busy game, but her next contribution was an extraordinary back pass that split her own defence, Whyman making a point blank save to deflect the ball around the post.

One goal at the break was probably right. The second half started with a bad injury to the Canberra goalkeeper, receiving what looked like a knee to the head, plenty of injury time to come at the end as a result. A good break down the Sydney right saw a ball crossed in and it was Wheeler again involved, striking on the volley, a deflection taking the ball into the right hand corner of the goal. To be honest it didn’t look in, so there was a moment of confusion from the crowd, before the cheers rang out for the second goal. A host of substitutions followed, Remy Siemsen, who had battled well in the hold-up role up front and the elegant Rachel Lowe making way first.

A moment of pure magic then sealed the victory. Picking up the ball in midfield, Ally Green strode forward and hit what looked like a speculator from almost thirty yards. The ball flew through the air and the sheer precision of the shot had everyone in the stadium on their feet, the keeper leaping athletically through the air but unable to reach the shot that nestled in the top left of the goal. A goal worthy of grand finalists, a majestic moment that brought the crowd to life. The final fifteen minutes saw Canberra fashion a few moments, but there was no real danger and Sydney were coasting to the win.

Time for TLL champion Michelle to whip up a frenzy with a marvellous rendition of “Sydney is sky blue” that had the crowd roaring. The final whistle saw the players stay properly distant from their fans, even family members prevented from hugging their daughters, quite a bizarre moment, but one that shows how far we still have to go with the Covid situation.

The players and fans took their time to leave, but were all meeting up by the main Gate A. Compared to an A League game, there were a lot of interested people waiting to say ‘hi’ to their idols. The Sydney FC players looked chic in their blue suits, crisp white shirts and white trainers – a very good look – although the Covid regulations meant that photos were at a premium. There were plenty of superstars there too, none more famous than Rossco.

Rossco and Texi

This was a lovely day. Back home before seven, ready to wrap up the long weekend with a catch up of the A League games. We go again on Sunday. In between though, we go again twice for the men’s games on Wednesday and Saturday. It’s a veritable football frenzy. Season 20/21 has been a bloody ripper.

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