If Melbourne City go on to lose next weekend’s grand final, it could arguably represent the greatest injustice in the A-League since Danny Vukovic was banned from the Beijing Olympics.
Not for the first time this season, Paddy Kisnorbo and his fellow Melbourne City coaches deserve plenty of praise for the manner of their side’s 2-0 defeat of Macarthur in Sunday’s rain-soaked semi-final in Kogarah.
Not just because the two goals, scored by youngsters Marco Tilio and Stefan Colakovski, were both so easy on the eye. But mainly because this season has continued to place obstacle after obstacle in Melbourne City’s way, only for the premiership winners to overcome every single one of them.
It is, quite frankly, absurd that teams have been expected to play finals football without their current Socceroos.
Melbourne City went into their semi-final missing Curtis Good, Connor Metcalfe and 25-goal Golden Boot winner Jamie Maclaren, while Sydney FC downed Adelaide United without the services of goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne and defenders Rhyan Grant and Ryan McGowan.
And while the absence of Australia’s full internationals may have helped the likes of Tilio and Colakovski become heroes in their own right, it’s a terrible look for the game to play a finals series shorn of its biggest stars.
But it was ever thus with the A-League. While COVID restrictions have undoubtedly thrown the world into a tailspin, this season won’t exactly be remembered as a bastion of smart governance.
Moving Sunday’s semi-final from AAMI Park in Melbourne to Sydney’s southern suburbs put Melbourne City at a huge disadvantage on the back of some questionable logic.
And while commissioner Greg O’Rourke insists the Australian Professional Leagues will do everything within their power to try and play the grand final at AAMI Park, with a decision expected to be made by Tuesday, the APL needs to be conscious of the fact that many fans believe the A-League is already far too Sydney-centric.
That’s not a criticism of Sydney FC, who were simply the better side against Adelaide United on Saturday and deservedly moved through to their third consecutive grand final.
But if the Sky Blues end up ‘hosting’ another grand final at Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta next weekend, it will put a metaphorical asterisk next to the game irrespective of the result.
It’s hard not to wonder whether the decision to move the semi-final from AAMI Park to Kogarah Oval would have been so easily made if it was Melbourne Victory, rather than Melbourne City, facing Macarthur on Sunday.
For all their attractive football, one thing City have clearly failed to do is attract much of a fan base.
They’re no different to Macarthur and Western United in that regard, and some serious questions should be raised over the off-season about how every club plans to entice fans back through the gates.
But if all City can do is keep winning – and rather than weigh in on any of these governance issues, Kisnorbo has made it clear he prefers to let his side’s football do the talking – then all we can do is applaud their ability to keep putting these distractions to one side.
Here’s hoping next week’s decider is a game fitting of the occasion.
With Craig Noone and Andrew Nabbout both under injury clouds, you’d have to think a Sydney FC side boasting the twin strike force of Bobo and Adam Le Fondre would invariably start as favourites.
And if the Sky Blues beat the table-toppers fair and square on the day, few could argue Steve Corica’s team don’t deserve to be crowned champions.
But it will be harsh on a City side that has overcome more obstacles than most just to get there.
It’s been a fantastic season. Let’s hope it all ends with a bang, rather than with us scratching our heads over administrative issues and wondering whether Melbourne City are cursed.