During the postscript to A-League Grand Finals, there is always the opportunity to pause and reflect on the season just passed.
2022-23 saw the unthinkable happen, as Nick Montgomery’s giant-killing Mariners hammered star-studded Melbourne City 6-1 in the men’s decider at CommBank Stadium in Sydney, whereas Sydney FC’s triumph in the women’s competition was one most saw coming, despite Western United leading the way on the ladder for an extended period.
On the big day, the women in sky blue scythed through the United defence with ease, blasting four past the team that had surprisingly finished well clear of both Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory on the ladder and were the first to secure a spot in the Grand Final.
All in all, there could be few complaints of the season as a whole. Young talent continued to excel in both competitions. Sydney FC’s Sarah Hunter emerged as one of the most promising young female players in the country.
Cortnee Vine, after stepping up to the Matildas set-up brought those experiences back for Sydney FC’s benefit and starred week after week for the champions, whilst Jessika Nash and Clare Hunt both had stellar campaigns, as they seek to become permanent fixtures in Tony Gustavsson’s squad.
Despite some fears that the A-League Women was looking a little thin on the ground for talent after the recent international raids on the Matildas’ stocks, the competition held up well.
After an early stumble thanks to the actions of a group of buffoons claiming to be Melbourne Victory supporters, the men’s competition bubbled along brilliantly the longer the season went.
Then, one big gun was sent packing in a semi-final, the Reds and Mariners fought for the right to topple Melbourne City in the decider, and the eventual shellacking dished out to a team that continues to struggle on the big occasion satisfied everyone bar the City faithful.
Sure, they had earned the right to host the final match of the season on home soil after topping the table with style, however, the APL saw things differently and has set a firm three-year stance that will see the Grand Final played in Sydney, irrespective of the teams participating.
Off the back of the stunning Round of 16 performance of the Socceroos in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and some relevant conversations around the number of players in Graham Arnold’s squad that had cut their teeth in the domestic league, some folk seemed to be finally grasping the fact that the A-League is actually a pretty decent one.
Scotland swooped over the last 18 months and took names like Kye Rowles, Nathaniel Atkinson, Keanu Baccus, Ryan Strain and Cameron Devlin into the SPL. Garang Kuol captured the eyes of international football scouts and began his promising journey by putting pen to paper with Newcastle United, whilst older brother Alou headed to Germany.
As some of the veterans near the end, internationally based Socceroos such as Denis Genreau, Gianni Stensness, Alessandro Circati and Connor Metcalfe have emerged as future stars.
Local players Nestory Irankunda, Jordan Bos, Aiden O’Neill, Brandon Borrello and Joe Gauci enjoyed fabulous domestic seasons, with the City duo making recent European moves that provide stepping stones towards their obvious ascensions to long careers in national colours.
Manchester City’s Alex Robertson, Leicester’s Harry Souttar, Verona’s Ajdin Hrustic and Socceroo captain Mat Ryan are flying the Australian flag at the elite level in Europe, yet the host of young men snapping at their heels is growing every day and will have Graham Arnold quietly chuffed as he plans his assault on the 2024 Asian Cup and the upcoming World Cup qualifiers for North America 2026.
The Olyroos have just claimed third-place in the Maurice Revello Tournament in France, dusting up the host nation 2-0 and ending a tournament that enunciated just how talented and competitive the next wave of Socceroos looks like being.
Our Matildas have struck better form in recent times, with a brilliant win again Sweden last November and a Cup of Nations success early in 2023 suggesting that the team could well give the upcoming World Cup a shake on home soil.
The tournament will set the nation and the globe alight, with Australia’s partial hosting duties holding the potential to change the game forever in the Oceania region, especially for young girls.
Whilst many a critical NSL voice continues to slag off the A-Leagues, prospective National Second Division clubs begin jockeying for position and engaging in slanging matches that will no doubt last well into 2024 and Australia’s greatest coach Ange Postecoglou is still being doubted by people who know far less about the game than he does, Australian football is looking mighty healthy right now.
Our players and coaches around the globe are firing and the domestic leagues continue to produce quality football and players.
A semi-final or better at the Women’s World Cup, Spurs on top of the EPL ladder after a month and ongoing success for our men’s national teams will simply parlay all the hard work done, as we head towards another exciting A-League season and a winnable Asian Cup in the New Year.
It is nice to be a football fan in Australia right now. Let’s hope it stays that way and that Australian football’s ability to hamstring itself has finally become something of the past.