It’s all about confidence, baby.

Sydney FC 3 Brisbane Roar 1

Sydney FC capped off a fantastic Australia Cup campaign with a come-from-behind win against a lively Brisbane Roar at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night in the curtain-raiser to what could be the dawning of a new era for football in this country. Roar held a deserved 1-0 lead through Junior Socceroos striking sensation Tom Waddingham at the break as the home team toiled ineffectively and looked like total strangers at the back. Whatever was said at half-time to rouse the home team worked, and strong substitutions turned the tide completely. An unusual penalty gave Fabio Gomes the change to score on his home debut from the spot, Robert Mak added a second after Joe Lolley slid in the perfect ball, and the Sky Blues finally added a third late in the game when Gomes pounced from close-range. The Australia Cup and Asian competition again next season locked in. What a start to the season for Steve Corica’s men.

A beautiful day for football in Sydney, and I met up with my partner in life and football Michelle at the Royal Exhibition Hotel (REH) next to Central Station for an afternoon pint. A beautiful day for drinking too before we moved on to the Crown to meet everyone else for a bite to eat. The Cove shop was selling t-shirts, alas the one that I’d been requested to buy wasn’t available in smaller sizes – next time maybe. The absence of an organised march to the stadium meant that everyone left in dribs and drabs and we were in the last group to leave after finishing our schnitzels, walking across Moore Park, dodging horse shit before arriving at the stunning shrine of Allianz Stadium as night fell.

We had ten minutes to kick-off, having left our run quite late, and the fireworks were already crackling, greeting a healthy-looking crowd to the stadium with plenty of noise and colour. The Gender Neutral bathrooms of the recent FIFA World Cup had been replaced with the original female toilets, the brief embrace of inclusivity having departed with the bandwagon back in August. The Welcome to Country and the national anthem were stirring, and the crowd was growing as we approached the start of the game. The game kicked off to a roar, Sydney FC shooting towards the Brisbane fans in the away end, a decent number of them having travelled down for this exciting match-up.

You can catch the match action and reports elsewhere online, but from our vantage point in Cove Heights, the first half was not pretty. Our proximity to Jordan Courtney-Perkins defending at left back made for dire viewing, and it was no surprise when the exciting Henry Hore was given the freedom of the right wing to fire in a cross and Waddingham pounced unmarked on the follow up. The looks of disgust between the Sydney defenders were telling. Sydney were blunt going forward, Joe Lolley providing the best moments but his radar was off as he cut inside and fired into the Roar fans.

A peculiar moment midway through the half saw Jake Girdwood-Reich fly into a tackle on the touchline near the benches, a challenge that looked more AFL than A-League, and he was booked, the stunned attacker lying dazed on the deck for ages. Rhyan Grant picked up a yellow for nothing, his challenge a few seconds before deemed to be worthy of the same caution as his defensive teammate. The away team looked the most likely to score another, but a cross from Lolley on the break saw Paddy Wood connect at the far end and it looked like a good chance gone begging, albeit under pressure.

Half-time was not greeted by boos, but there was a quiet resignation that the upcoming season might not be what we were anticipating. Doing a quick scout around the stadium, there were some Wanderers fans, obviously lost, proudly wearing their read and black, the few bars that were open had queues that were way too long to justify missing any of the upcoming second-half action, and I was back in my seat just as the players emerged from the tunnel.

To say that this was a game of two halves would be an understatement. All the clichés applied here; Sydney FC were shooting towards the Cove, it felt like there was a slope towards the home end or that the wind was fiercely in our favour in the second half. All of the football was being played in the half in front of us, and with the tall pacy Fabio Gomes on now for Corey Hollman and Courtney-Perkins replaced with the Australia Cup’s over-achiever Kealey Adamson, Sydney were ready to claw their way back into the game.

Robbie Mak’s corner saw the heads go up and the referee pointed straight to the spot when Henry Hore flapped a hand at it right in front of him. The momentum had only just started to swing, but this helped it on its way. Fabio was insistent with Luke Brattan that he was going to take it, and his stuttering run up was followed by an emphatic finish and a frenzied celebration in the Cove. There was smoke from the terraces; it always confuses me, the relationship that football in Australia has with flares – on one hand, they are banned and frowned upon by someone somewhere. On the other hand, everyone loves it, the cameras zoom in to get the best shots showing the fervent supporters shrouded in coloured smoke. Make your minds up people, show me one person who doesn’t like a flare? Make them a bit safer and we’ll give you a proper football atmosphere.

Joe Lolley raced away soon after down the right and took his time to see what the defenders would do before firing in a cross at the feet of Mak, who swept the ball home at the far post from two yards out. Exquisite from Lolley, but a brilliant interception to set the attack up from Anthony Caceres. More bedlam in the home end. Sydney were utterly dominant, and could have added more. Rhyan Grant running riot down the right, Fabio just not wrapping his foot around the ball enough to find the net, and his electric pace was there for all to see.

The final goal came to wrap things up in the last minute, Jaiden Kucharski’s shot from the edge of the area too hot to handle for Macklin Freke, and it was a foot-race between Grant and Fabio to apply the final touch, thankfully the Brazilian getting there first as Rhyno may have been offside, and he finished well to round off a magical second half of cup football.

The final whistle was celebrated by all those in sky blue, the mood was upbeat and everyone remained in the stadium while the post-match interviews were done and the pre-presentation prep was underway. It’s an eerie time in a football event, thankfully there was no stage to construct, but we seemed to be waiting for ages, probably for some adverts to finish on the TV coverage, before the players walked up the steps of the main stand to receive their medals. It was like an English FA Cup final of yesteryear. The blue ticker tape was released like a swarm of wasps, and more fireworks filled the air with smoke as former legend Michael Zullo presented the Australia Cup to the winners.

The players didn’t really know what to do. The #magicofthecup arch was moved from the centre of the field to in front of the goal and then to the side; the players following it around until the photographers had their perfect shot. The team then came to the Cove to celebrate together, waiting patiently for players to arrive from all sides of the ground. Luke Brattan missed the majority of the cup hoists but eventually realised what was happening and trotted in to join the party. Kucharski was the man on the mega to get the chants going.

We wandered over to the main stand on the way to the exit to see if there were any meet and greet possibilities. The girls were loving the selfies with the new stars, Gabriel and Fabio happy to click away, and there was no rush to leave until the security guards got the nod and started to close in to shoo everyone to the exits. This had been the perfect way to introduce the new A-Leagues season, to showcase just what the league has to offer in terms of excitement and entertainment. We got to see goals from a clearly talented striker, a brilliant midfield combining attributes of tenacity and flair and there were smiles on faces on and off the field. Sydney had even graciously allowed the Roar a good chunk of time with the lead, so there was something for everyone.

Spilling out onto Driver Avenue, we were expecting to have no problem with crowds on the light rail – alas, a sea of teenage Ocean Alley fans descended on the light rail stop and we had to wait until the next service to get ourselves back to Central and on to the train home. Back home by eleven, this had been a fabulous occasion. The best Australia Cup campaign I can remember, a reminder of what we’ve been missing since the Women’s World Cup finished and cofirmation that Australian club football is a fantastic product.

See you all soon, although not at the games you’d expect!

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