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No-one ‘deserves’ anything in sport: Mariners must earn it and lucky Victory will have them shaking in their boots

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21st May, 2024

The Mariners have what they wanted out of season 2023/24; a home decider in Gosford.

However, Melbourne Victory should be given plenty of credit for qualifying to meet them after battling in fourth gear for much of the season; eventually limping into third place.

Yet credit where credit is due and against the odds and an entire nation, Victory earned their spot for the final game gallantly.

With their season’s existence under threat and looking likely to be killed off by the accomplished Phoenix, somehow, Tony Popovic’s men found a way and now stand just a game away from what would be the most astonishing and potentially unforeseeable A-League championship.

It would arguably be Popovic’s greatest moment as a coach and the mere appearance of his team in the decider, considering how ordinarily they played at times this season, may already classify as his best performance in management thus far.

Although, no-one deserves anything in sport and even though there was a clear gap in performance between the Phoenix and Victory this season, heading out onto the pitch and earning it counts for so much more than position on the ladder or reputation.

Thus will again be the scenario when the Mariners host Victory in front of another packed crowd at Industree Group Stadium in Gosford this Saturday night.


The better team will win and the Mariners should be that team based on the evidence we have before us, yet if recent grand finals teach us anything, expect the unexpected.

Mariners are crowned premiers. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images) (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

Melbourne City have stumbled on the final day of the season in recent years. Western United pounced on their big game mediocrity two seasons back in a stunning win for John Aloisi’s team.

Central Coast did precisely the same last June, when they galloped to a resounding 6-1 win to claim what now looks like being the first of two consecutive championships for the little engine that could.

I’ll be on-line calling the game live for The Roar, but in homes around the nation, fans will be tuning in to watch what most will feel will be a coronation for Mark Jackson’s team.

Danny Vukovic will, as always, be solid at the back for the home side. Brian Kaltack and Jacob Farrell will no doubt continue to set the standard in terms of discipline and selflessness in defence and Victory will have all sorts of trouble combatting the quality and precision of a midfield in which Mikael Doka is staring for Central Coast.

That solid foundation parlays into opportunities for those pushing forward and with Alou Kuol back in some better form and the inspirational Josh Nisbet a candidate for an international move once the dust settles on the season, Victory must play their best match of the season if they hope to even remain competitive in the contest.


And there begins the mystery of the grand final and the fact that Central Coast actually have no advantage at all.

Despite 17 wins, 49 goals and just six losses during the 2023/24 regular season, the teams start level and reputation and past performance counts for nought.

Victory goalkeeper Paul Izzo celebrates with teammates after he saved three penalties during the A-League elimination final.

Victory goalkeeper Paul Izzo celebrates with teammates. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Believing that 100 per cent is the key mental hurdle the Victory players must go over and if Popovic is able to reproduce what he instilled in them mentally for the two-legged match-up with Wellington, a team that won a mere ten matches this season could eventually be the one holding the trophy on Saturday night.

How will that make us all feel? I’m not too sure. A Melbourne win would complete a triple of grand final upsets.

Could it happen? Of course it could. Will it happen? I say no, yet with pesky VAR lurking and a referee likely to poorly or over interpret something at some point during the 90 or 120 minutes, Victory could be just one simple decision away from being favourites.

In a perfect world, the Mariners and Phoenix would have played each other over two-legs to decide the champion for 2023/24. Even first past the post didn’t settle it for me this season, more was required to see just who would prevail when the stakes were highest.


Sadly, we didn’t get that scenario and have the masters of the draw Melbourne Victory just one game away from glory; something achievable if the belief in the group presents itself on the night.

The Mariners can already see themselves on the podium with medals around their necks and holding a trophy – and that should scare the heck out of the playing group.

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They know they should win and could argue they deserve it. Yet that is a dangerous mentality. Melbourne City probably thought the exact same thing last season.