Grand Final drama

The pinnacle of the W-League season was a highlight of a massive weekend of football – Sydney FC were looking to secure another Grand Final win, and they were on home soil. The only threat was from Lisa De Vanna, or so we thought.

*As always, swipe on a photo to see more

A strict rendezvous time of 1.30pm was in place for this one, with the assigned flag bearers, Aurelia included, meeting for rehearsal at the main gate of Kogarah Oval. That meant an early start just after midday to pick up Michelle and luckily we were so early that all the roads around the stadium were open and there were heaps of car spots. There were notable figures of the world game arriving already, Steph Brantz and Andy Harper spotted, amongst others. Expecting a two-and-a-half hour wait for kick off in the stadium, the news that the youngsters chosen to carry the flag wouldn’t need chaperoning was met with sparkling smiles and raised eyebrows from parents and carers, the bonus opportunity arising to head to the Kogarah Clubhouse for lunch and a couple of pre-game schooners.

Lots of familiar faces at the the KCH, including Annemarie and members of the Newcastle Jets Active who we’d seen up at the McDonald Jones Stadium in January. It was quite a jovial mood, and TLL’s Michelle carried that on through the mini march to the stadium – shame this free version of WordPress doesn’t do videos.

The stadium was bathed in sunshine, but this was quite a chilly day. Michelle Heyman was on the panel for Fox Sports and the party mood continued in the stadium during the pre-match. Carla found us and made sure we were in our right seats.

The daytime fireworks sort of hit the mark as the players came out onto the field, the Welcome to Country was well received and we had a lovely rendition of the national anthem, where more than 50% of the crowd forgot to change ‘young’ for ‘one’. That was a theme throughout the day, with a number of familiar chants from the Cove leading to a slip of the tongue : we are the famous boys, er, girls in blue …

Aurelia was on the field with the huge Melbourne Victory flag, the Cove were in full voice as the players lined up for their photos and that prompted me to move around to join in once Aurelia was off the field and the game was underway. At this point I must point out that I was a little jaded from a bigger than usual weekend of football, a late night and an early morning, and Aurelia was struggling after watching the Matildas in the wee hours, playing that morning and two hours of waiting around in the sun. We eventually moved back to our seats in the stand out of the chilly breeze that was swirling around the stadium, and the game became quite a tense affair.

There was some great action though, Victory hitting the underside of the crossbar with a thrilling shot, and Jada Whyman pulling off a couple of tidy saves to keep the scores level. Every shot seemed to be high, as if to take advantage of the Sydney keeper’s lack of inches. De Vanna had a free header at the far post that hit the bar again, it was relentless from the visitors. Meanwhile Teresa Polias struggled to get her corners right in the blustery wind. Goalless at the break, Sydney knew they were in a battle royale.

The game opened up towards the end of the second half as both teams pressed for a winner, Nat Tobin was having a great game and had to be on her toes to keep out the marauding Kyra Cooney-Cross down the Victory right. Princess Ibini, who had been shackled the whole game, eventually made way after lengthy treatment to her ankle. Whyman then palmed away a cross, De Vanna had the chance to flash the ball goalwards but must have lost her footing and tumbled to the floor, calls even for a penalty from our vantage point which were totally unfounded. Whyman then pulled off a fabulous save at the far post, pushing the ball away from point blank range and bouncing off the inside of the net to be alert for the follow up which hit the post.

Extra time came and Victory tested Whyman from distance, first the ball touched over the bar and the second one an acrobatic one-handed diving save to control the ball and gather on the bounce. A key decision to withdraw Mackenzie Hawkesbury who seemed still full of energy then saw more action, Whyman spilling a corner and Tobin calmly flicking the ball up and off the line. Allira Toby provided a moment for Sydney, shooting just over, and Claire Wheeler did very well to jink her way to the byline deep inside the penalty area, but the pull back didn’t find the player.

By now the Cove had mysteriously moved to the top of the North stand, and then again to another section, perhaps in a bid to keep warm. Those of us at Leichhardt Oval the day before as day turned to night were well prepared for this one, but there were many in t-shirts who might have needed a bit of jogging on the spot to ease the chill.

The action reached a crescendo when a through ball from Victory slipped through the legs of the last defender and the Victory striker looked destined to score, but Whyman did enough to put off her striker and the ball whistled past the post. The best chance of the game and one that could have been pivotal. That was until the last second of extra time when a corner was lifted in to the crowded area. Whyman lost the flight of the ball and was surrounded by players, the ball bouncing over the line sending the Victory players racing over to the corner-taker to celebrate. What a dramatic end, the yellow card was out for at least one angry home player. Sydney FC’s players were distraught. Only a moment or two were left and the final whistle sounded, the Victory bench racing onto the field again to rejoice.

A lot of the crowd had gone by the time the presentations were done, Steph Brantz standing next to Teresa Polias on the podium a real mismatch, there were red hats exchanged for medals between the Victory players and the mini mascots before the trophy was presented, the confetti blasted out and the fireworks ripped through the air. Despite the result, it was heart-warming to see the Victory players celebrating so much. It clearly meant a lot to them.

It was time to go when the poor soul responsible for collecting up all the confetti started his blower, gusts of wind undoing his good work as he went. It was good to see Sydney FC fan and men’s player Calem Nieuwenhof there to support the girls, but this was Victory’s day. There was no waiting around Gate A, it was too cold for that, but there was barely a car on the road for the journey home and we were in by 9pm or thereabouts.

That’s the end of the W-League season, a season that started so well at Bankwest with that mauling of Wanderers and a season that provided a lot of entertainment. Extend the season! Absolutely! Home and away series for all! Totally! It’s time to build on what we’ve got and make it great. Can’t wait for next season, whenever that gets underway.

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