Western United 0 Sydney FC 4
There’s nothing like that winning feeling, the culmination of a whole season of dedication, and Sydney FC have double the reason to celebrate this time after a thumping grand final win at Commbank Stadium secured the A-League women double on Sunday. Goals to Madison Haley, Nat Tobin and a Princess Ibini penalty underlined Sydney FC’s spot at the top of the league and completed unfinished business after three years of grand final pain. The celebrations were just getting started as the players and fans finally separated, and this was a sweet victory for the Sky Blues against the team that pushed them all the way to the Premiership crown.
The Texi Hierarchy of Football Importance (THFI) was again in play today, with the A-League women’s grand final scheduled on an afternoon when women’s domestic club football was taking place around the country. While Michelle was taking full advantage of her game being washed out, pre-gaming and enjoying the members’ bar with some special guests, I was racing from an NPL game at the Arctic Circle that finished at 3.20pm. Dropping my passengers at the gate just on kick off, I ran the gauntlet of the narrow Parra Leagues Club car park and could hear MMTV revving up the crowd as I stepped out of the car on the rooftop level.
The pre-match entertainment in the stadium forecourt was being dismantled, the promise of a street festival not looking a reality, and there were still a lot of people making their way in to the stadium via the main gate. I wasn’t the only one rushing from something else to be part of this historical grand final.
Much to my delight / despair, I had missed a goal but we were a goal ahead, Madison Haley having headed in the opening goal. Luckily there was a break in play just after goal machine Hannah Keane had fizzed a ball over Jada Whyman’s bar when the goal was shown on the big screen and I was right up to speed. I’d heard that security had been a little over-zealous when the goal went in, but the Cove marshalls were all smiles now. The Cove was bouncing; I had been impressed by how full the northern end of the stadium was when I first walked in, but the Cove area was also well populated, and the atmosphere was great. There were Wanderers fans at the far end, and a Western United area all green with hardly anyone in it. I took my spot with the gang as everyone was singing. Great stuff!
More joyful scenes were to come as a Mackenzie Hawkesby corner was lifted in, up went Haley with the keeper, almost a carbon copy of her goal, but this time the ball dropped for captain Nat Tobin, whose looped header found the net via the defender on the line. The celebrations were intense on the field for a player playing her 100th game, and the crowd were absolutely loving it. Two goals ahead with less than 20 minutes on the clock, this was a proper grand final performance!
Sydney FC continued to attack, and defended doggedly, at one point two Sydney defenders flying in to block a shot on goal; the girls were really putting their bodies on the line for the cause. Keane was a constant threat, and she almost scored, connecting with a cross to send a low ball towards goal, but Whyman found the extra few inches to push the ball away. Sydney still looked like scoring more, and were getting in to great positions, Cortnee Vine always eager to run at her defenders and the speed of transition from the Sky Blues was a joy to see.
Two goals up at half time, this was just perfect. No nerves, no self-doubt, no looking back at the last three grand finals in worry. A couple of the free t-shirts and flags in the Western United end found a new home in the Cove at half time as the odd spectacle of a dancing troup in the seats gave the extended break a bit of All-American razzamatazz, clearly a tip of the hat to Madison Haley. The acoustics at our end weren’t quite right, so we could barely hear the music, but there was plenty of energy from the two dozen dancers as the daytime fireworks filled the air and the half-time entertainment concluded.
The second half was truly one-way traffic. Sydney took full advantage of their home-city advantage and the backing of their fervent fans. Hawkesby flashed a shot just over when well placed just after the restart, Vine raced through but her shot was straight at Hilary Beall – that is becoming a feature of her game, always faster than anyone else, keen to run at players, but the finishing still needs some work. Vine again took advantage of a stray interception in the box, but Beall this time had to react smartly and saved well.
Just on the hour mark, Ibini, who was playing with a bit of menace, took the ball in her stride and darted between two defenders into the penalty area. She managed to get the pass away to Haley, who had a lot to do, but the referee decided that she’d seen some holding on Ibini and awarded a surprise penalty. On review on the big screen, we could see why, but it was very soft all the same. What a chance to wrap things up. As Sydney fans, we’re not accustomed to successful penalties, but this one from Prinny was precise, into the corner, and she embarked on a journey to the Cove as the celebrations reached their peak. She hurdled the advertising hoardings, avoiding all the cameras and raced to join MMTV in total delight as the fans spilled over onto the pitch and danced a jig of happiness with their heroes. What a moment!
Vine had another chance but it never looked like being her day for goalscoring, and she made way for Rola Badawiya, while Indiana Dos Santos appeared to the biggest cheer of the night, quite rightly now a favourite with the younger Sydney FC fans. Sydney continued to push, and finally got their reward when Haley snaffled a ball from the tired Western United defence and finished at the third attempt to confirm the grand final win. The camera crew was on the field to join in the celebrations, something that we don’t see ever, and they would have seen a team in complete elation.
The final whistle saw the players race to to celebrate in the middle of the field, the whole bench running on. This clearly meant a lot to the players, and the fans continued to sing throughout.
The awkward time between final whistle and presentation had the players congregating at the side where the families usually are, Madison Haley went up to get her player of the match award, and this was a scene of joy in the Cove. Again, the sound wasn’t the best, so we had lost interest quite quickly to what was being said on stage. The presentation was done to Nat Tobin, and she lifted the trophy to a fountain of ticker tape that floated menacingly over the fire machines. The formalities now done, it was proper celebration time. The players raced to the Cove, some running along the width of the field before congregating with all the staff and squad behind the goal.
This was total joy. The trophy was hoisted high a number of times, we had Nat and Macca on the megaphone leading the chants, MMTV got her photo with the trophy, all the players were in such high spirits, dancing along to the chants and belting out “We Are Sydney…” I have to admit it was emotional, like watching family members achieve success, a feeling of pride and accomplishment, a reward for the persistence in a season where neither the premiership nor the champioship were a straightforward journey. The young fans at the northern end all had their moment with the players, we learned that Charlie Rule loves Bali (!) and we had smiling faces all around us. Just the perfect end to the grand final and a crescendo to an exciting season.
We weren’t the last to leave, which is a first, and after some quality procrastination, headed to Club Parramatta for a quick feed before some of our party headed to Cheers in the city for the Old Firm and to celebrate the occasion further, while the rest of us headed home; after all it was a school night.
Thats’s the premiership and the championship wrapped up for the 2022/2023 season. If we can hang on to our stars through this manic world cup year, then we’re going to be a force again next season as the A-League women goes around again, this time with the Mariners joining the fray in an extended season. Lots of women’s football to digest between now and then, but what a day at Commbank Stadium, and thanks APL for making it completely accessible to us Sydney FC fans.