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This will be the biggest A-League grand final of all time

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Expert
16th May, 2019
76
2019 Reads

More than 60,000 fans packing into a purple-swathed Optus Stadium in Perth on Sunday afternoon is proof that the A-League does grand finals better than the AFL or NRL ever will.

So much for Perth Glory struggling to sell tickets.

There were plenty of sceptics who before this week reckoned the Glory would go nowhere near filling Perth’s brand-spanking new stadium.

Many of them had at least one thing in common – they were more likely to be watching the West Coast Eagles or Fremantle Dockers on a Sunday afternoon as an A-League game.

As football fans we’re so used to followers of other sports belittling the A-League under the guise of offering friendly advice, that we essentially accept it as the norm.

Heaven forbid if the shoe’s on the other foot though and you happen to mention that you prefer the A-League to Australia’s provincial codes, because you’ll never hear the end of it.

But there are a few things the A-League does better than the AFL and NRL and one of them is grand finals.

LeRoy George controls the ball

Leroy George of the Victory during the 2018 A-League Grand Final between the Newcastle Jets and the Melbourne Victory (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Just ask North Queensland Cowboys fans.

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When Johnathan Thurston kicked one of the most dramatic field goals in NRL history to win the 2015 grand final in golden point extra time, he did so in front of thousands of Cowboys fans who paid far more to attend the game than they should reasonably have been expected to.

That’s because in their infinite wisdom, the NRL saw fit to play a game between North Queensland and the Brisbane Broncos at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.

And even if West Coast and the Fremantle Dockers were to battle their way through to the AFL decider this season, the game would still be played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The AFL might believe Melbourne is home to Australia’s national sport but at the end of the day, they’ll never be willing to budge from their stronghold.

That’s what makes the fact that A-League grand finals are hosted by the highest-placed team such a special thing – and one an independent competition would do well to protect.

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It’s a money-spinner for Football Federation Australia too, and not even the fact that tickets for Sunday’s showdown were priced as high as $130 was enough to prevent them from flying out the door.

No matter what Glory owner Tony Sage says about them losing their home-ground advantage, playing at Optus Stadium was also a victory for common sense.

The A-League is simply not in the position to be turning away an extra 40,000 fans just because Perth happen to play their regular games at the more compact HBF Park.

As for the match itself, there’s no question Tony Popovic’s team head into the grand final as favourites. But do they deserve to?

Much as a Glory win would be great for the A-League, you have to wonder just how much their incredible penalty shoot-out victory over Adelaide United last Friday took out of them.

They’ll hope not to have peaked too soon, not least because if any team looked capable of getting the better of them this season, it was Sydney FC.

The Sky Blues beat them twice during the regular season and with Milos Ninkovic likely to dink diagonal balls in behind Glory’s marauding fullbacks all afternoon, suddenly the A-League’s strongest defence looks somewhat vulnerable.

Milos Ninkovic

Ninkovic’s versatility highlights how Sydney FC’s multi-faceted approach brought them success. (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

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That’s not to suggest that Glory don’t have weapons of their own. There’s a reason Diego Castro will go down as one of the A-League’s classiest imports of all time.

And if it’s Popovic who clinches the silverware, it will go down as one of the finest managerial comebacks in Australian football history.

Whatever the outcome on Sunday afternoon, this is the grand final the A-League had to have.

Whether you’re tuning into Fox Sports or 10 Bold, watching on Kayo or the My Football App or following all the action on The Roar, this is one football game you simply cannot afford to miss.