Few would have picked Sydney FC as Champions elect after their 6-1 defeat to Sutherland Sharks in the competition’s second round.
But the tables have well and truly reversed ahead of Sunday’s Grand Final, a fact rammed home by Sydney’s 5-0 hammering of the Sharks a fortnight ago.
Sydney have come a long way according to coach Giancarlo Italiano.
“We got absolutely bullied in that game,” he said.
“They really gave us a touch up and it was a real big slap in the face for us.”
The response of Italiano’s squad has been one of the stories of the season. The Sky Blues have notched an incredible 70 goals this season – 22 more than opponents Sutherland.
What makes their achievement all the more remarkable has been Sydney’s defensive record, which is only outranked by bottom pair Sydney Olympic and Rockdale City Suns.
It’s an approach that has seen some skewed results and performances across the year, including a 5-5 draw with Bonnyrigg White Eagles. But Italiano says Sydney FC would be foolish to alter their approach on Grand Final day.
“The 20’s competition is a very weird mix of teams, we’ve got a lot of young boys and sometimes you’re playing against men.
“If we were to go out and defend against some of these guys we would probably lose these battles over a long period of time. That fact we promote an attacking style and try to entertain helps the boys move further along.
“The question is, and the test that I’ll be giving to all the players is – do we want to win the Grand Final by being a negative team, or by being the team that we’ve been all year?
“Whether we win or lose, we’re going to go out and try to entertain as much as we can and play the best football we can.”
Sydney’s unflinching commitment to attacking football is a story only equalled by Sutherland’s quest to reach back to back Championships.
Sutherland are out to repeat what would be a historic triumph, particularly after a season that has seen injuries, suspensions and departures culminate in a horror run of form heading into the finals.
That saw Blacktown City steal Sutherland’s Premiership crown, and the Sharks ability to regroup in the finals has been testament to the side’s belief.
“We’ve had to remain positive and upbeat,” says Sharks coach Nick Dimovski.
“I’m proud of the boys to be in this position. We were probably written by certain pundits at the back end of the year.
“And the 5-0 loss to Sydney in the first final was a bitter pill to swallow but we took our medicine and bounced back.”
It might have looked unlikely in the final weeks of the regular season but Sutherland are now well poised to clinch consecutive Championship trophies.
Dimovski says belief among the Sutherland squad has been restored and they’re daring to dream.
“We’re going to focus on our game. We’re coming into this game as the defending champions and we want to play that way.
“The boys have been fantastic and they’ve proven yet again that the most impressive young talent is coming out of the Shire way.”
-By Jacob Windon