Oh no, not again.

A-League Women’s Grand Final day. A day of celebration; we’d made it right to the end of the journey, and we’d already wrapped up the Premiership. What could go wrong? In a repeat of the semi-final against a stubborn Melbourne City, Sydney FC found themselves two goals behind with a mountain to climb. They rallied and threw everything at opponents Melbourne Victory in a thrilling finish. Thanks to some expert game management from the visitors and a host of missed chances, a second grand final went Victory’s way at the same venue. Ah shite.

This one was a difficult one to fit in to a four day football bender. On the back of the Socceroos game on Thursday, me and Michelle had spent the weekend in Jamberoo at the fantastic Football Writers’ Festival, then had to pick up Aurelia from her game at a soaked Moorebank. Luckily it all fell into place and on a damp Sunday afternoon we got to the sacred Kogarah Clubhouse in time for a quick bite to eat. Cocktails and salads, great combo, voices prepped and ready for at least 90 minutes of vocals. English Street was blocked off further up than usual, suggesting a big crowd, but the lack of people at the turnstiles at Gate C made it look like a fairly small attendance would await us on the inside.

The Cove section, at the bottom of section 18, which has possibly the most restricted view in the whole stadium, was already looking lively. The tifo was up, a cracking design that was brought to life midweek, along with banners asking to extend the season, and there were flags for everyone to herald the entrance of the players to the field. Smoke and fire were the themes of the additional features provided for this one, and a great big camera crane right behind the goal that hampered our view even further. The Victory end had a cheeky banner naming it the KCC End, a tip of the hat to their goalscoring hero in last year’s corresponding fixture. Everyone was pumped. This was going to be great.

Players and fans belted out the national anthem, the players all went for their team photos and the players looked sprightly as they raced into the middle of the field for the team huddle. No nonsense turning the teams around; it was Sydney shooting towards the far end in the first half and coming home in the second.

The shit view means no photos of the actual game, and to be honest we were singing all the way through, so there was little chance of capturing anything meaningful. The action is history now anyway, you’ll have watched the highlights a hundred times by now. From what we could see up the far end, a perfectly placed corner for Mackenzie Hawkesby got us underway early in the game, the ball somehow cleared off the line and Nat Tobin headed just over. The inswinging corner though was Victory’s main weapon, and they almost scored when the ball missed everyone and was cleared off the line by Hawkesby right in front of us. We’d see that corner routine every time, and why not?

Meanwhile in the Cove, capo Michelle was having a field day; lots of revving up the crowd, no hesitation to sing anti-Victory songs and at one stage even a false start to a chant – the right words but the wrong tune – that had everyone, Michelle included, cracked up with laughter. It was carnival time. The Cove was bouncing.

Remy Siemsen had a great chance on the left palmed away by Casey Dumont in the Victory goal, then Princess Ibini shot straight at the keeper when released in the box. Ally Green swung one right onto Hawkesby’s head but the looping header was tipped over, and Hawkesby’s tantalising corner went through players and hit the far post, avoiding the legs of the defenders and was hacked away. It wasn’t exactly one-way traffic, Victory still had plenty of the ball, but Sydney FC just couldn’t convert their growing list of chances. A stalemate at half time then. Time to reset and start again.

Half time saw the mini footballers head onto the field, and some familiar shirts from my local association in North West Sydney. Great to see. I had a wander around to see how busy it really was, but for some reason the security was being a stickler for the rules and there was no way through. Sarah Hunter had her 100 or so family members and friends. The mood was good. The second half would be great.

The half was only two minutes old though when Victory left Ante Juric’s team talk in tatters. And it was an odd one, up the far end, when a ball was looped back in after a corner was cleared. The Victory striker jumped earliest, Jada Whyman caught flat-footed, and she nodded into the unguarded goal for a freakish goal. Sydney were fired up. Remy Siemsen lashed in a shot that was well dealt with by the Victory keeper, before another strange pinball goal made it two. Nat Tobin sliced a clearance and in a hi-speed scramble, the ball fell beautifully for the Victory striker who drilled the ball through Whyman’s legs for two. Perhaps there was also a deflection that made it even harder.

The Cove was by now bolstered by the arrival of the Junior crew, welcomed into the fray and not shy to sing the fruitier words of the chants. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that 2-0 down means very little, and the way the game was going, this was a deficit that could be easily overturned. There was plenty of time management from Victory. Injuries went on for ages, and when Dumont took a big hit, she used a huge chunk of time to miraculously recover. Soon after, another teasing corner was bravely headed goalwards by Charlie Rule. Cortnee Vine pounced as Dumont saved. The ball was behind the advertising hoardings, so we didn’t see the ball go in, but it was obvious from the players’ reactions that it had, Rule having had a head-clash and not knowing much about it.

The game was wide open. A high ball into the Sydney area was misread by Whyman, who had to back-pedal and tip the ball around the post after it had bounced over her. Vine was a whisker away from an equaliser after Taylor Ray played her in, the ball could not have been closer to the far post, right in front of the Cove who were ready to celebrate. Could have sworn that was going in. The subs had been flowing, Siemsen taken off for Cote Rojas, Hunter sacrificed for the silky Rachel Lowe, Ally Green was cashed in for Paige Satchell in a last ditch attempt to win it, which opened the game up even more. Rojas shot just wide on the turn, Satchell raced on to a great ball to shoot an inch past the post, the Cove again with their heads in their hands. More time-wasting tactics from the visitors ate up some more minutes, Whyman had to make a fantastic save to keep Sydney in it, but it was all too late and the final whistle brought mass elation from the Victory players and stone cold silence in the Cove; the noise had literally continued until the final whistle, the hope had been there right until the end.

There was some eager goading of the Cove by the Victory backroom staff which was retorted with some choice words and more anti-Victory barracking. Not a particularly classy moment from the visiting team to be honest, but all’s fair in love and war.

The presentation took an eternity, the streamers blowing straight into the main stand, and so did the players coming around to acknowledge the active support. They finally did, to a rousing “Sydney ’til I die,” and we still celebrated the season and the Premiership. There were tears from players. This was a goodbye for a number of them, Remy and Cortnee rumoured to be lost to the global game and the tears were most likely due to the realisation that this was the end of a special season for Sydney FC women.

The players, their families, and eager fans lapped up the atmosphere. It was a happy occasion for everyone, despite the defeat. Siemsen ended up without boots. No signature or selfie hunter went without; all the while the sounds of celebration were coming from the tunnel when the Victory players, their staff and finally the trophy made their way into the changing rooms. Abbie from Her Way Magazine was interviewing Nat Tobin. Jaydee was capturing the moment for socials, CEO Danny Townsend was amongst the crowd while Calem Nieuwenhoff and Rachel Lowe were the darlings of Kogarah Oval.

Security started to thin out the crowd. We made our way back around to Gate C where we’d parked. The clean up was well underway, the extra TV equipment being hastily packed away, and all the while two Victory players lay on their backs staring at the grey skies, contemplating what they had just achieved.

That was the end of the 2021/22 A-League Women season, and walking out the gate felt like a goodbye. Of course, it’s not. We’ll be back here on Wednesday for the Macarthur game and then on the weekend for the Sydney derby. But the women’s game, which has kept us entertained all season with quality players and plenty of goals, is now over for another short season, and we’re left with a tough struggle for the men to get anywhere near the finals.

Big shout out to the Sydney FC Women’s Cove. It comes in different guises. Sometimes with our noisy men’s active, sometimes with a drum, sometimes with a tiny band of fans who have a lot of fun, singing to the players in the hope that they spur on their team to something good. See you all next year. We now assume our positions in various parts of the stadium, as we count down to the end of our tenancy at Kogarah and a move into a new and exciting era for Sydney FC.

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