Five things we learned from A-League grand final

It seemed like it took forever, but at the end of an incredible grand final Sydney FC got what they deserved - the A-League championship. Melbourne Victory were tremendous in defeat, but as the old saying goes, there can only be one winner.

1. Penalties aren't every player's cup of tea

It can be the loneliest place of all, the penalty spot, particularly when a championship is on the line.

Victory grabbed the advantage at 2-1 in the shootout when Leigh Broxham put his shot away after Sydney's Alex Wilkinson had dragged the ball wide, but then it all went pear-shaped for the visitors.

David Carney scored for Sydney before Victory captain Carl Valeri, sprinting in off a long run, smashed the ball against the cross-bar, and then Brandon O'Neill scored before a tired-looking Marco Rojas had his shot saved by Sky Blues goalkeeper Danny Vukovic.

Then it was left to Milos Ninkovic to put an exclamation mark on a great individual season for him and a magnificent team season for Sydney by scoring off the next shot. He did it brilliantly.

2. You can't win them all

You might be able to score in them all, as Besart Berisha continues to do at this stage, to his great credit, but if you keep making grand finals then sooner or later the day comes when you finally lose one.

They're just too hard to win to be able to keep doing that.

That day came on Sunday for Victory striker Berisha, who had previously won three out of three grand finals - two with Brisbane Roar and one with Victory - and scored in each of them.

His first-half goal put Victory on the road to a win, but they couldn't quite go the distance. Still, four grand finals for three wins and five goals - as Berisha's record goes - is pretty darn good.

3. Professional mind-coaching beats everyone's against us mentality - this time, anyway

Recently, much had been made of Sydney's employment of mind coaches to help build the positive approach of the players and coach Graham Arnold this season.

They didn't talk about if they won, but when they won. They expected to win.

But there's still something to be said for the old everyone's against us approach and Victory coach Kevin Muscat said a couple of days before the grand final: "It's very Sydney-centric, isn't it, this competition? It feels like it's us against the nation. It's great. Just the way I like it."

Victory certainly went in pumped up to get a result. But there can only be one winner on the day and after trailing in the penalty shootout Sydney got up to take the title. That must have taken a heap of mental strength.

4. Good things come to those who wait

Sydney FC defender Sebastian Ryall had missed most of the season because of a hamstring injury. He became available to play again towards the end of the regular season, but couldn't break back into the record-breaking side.

But he kept working hard at training, just in case. After all, football's a funny game, right?

Then, just when it looked like Ryall would be a spectator right until the end, Sky Blues winger Bernie Ibini went down with a hamstring injury in the semi-finals and was ruled out of the grand final.

Rather than replace him in the match-day squad with a forward, coach Arnold reinstalled Ryall, and when centre-back Jordy Buijs cramped up deep into extra time and had to be replaced it was Ryall who came on.

Ryall obviously wouldn't have wanted Ibini to miss out that way, but someone had to replace him and that little cameo was a great way for Ryall to finish the season.

5. Sydney came, saw and conquered in the greatest A-League season ever by a club

It may have taken all of the 90 minutes of normal time, 30 minutes of extra time and then penalties, but the Sky Blues finally prevailed on the last day of the season.

Had they lost, it would have been heartbreaking for them after the way they dominated the season with just one loss in the 27 rounds, a runaway win in the Premier's Plate and a 3-0 eclipse of Perth Glory in the semi-finals.

The championship still goes to the team that wins the grand final and the pressure on the Sky Blues to finish the season off the right way must have been enormous.

But they did it - and they deserve enormous credit and huge congratulations for that.

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4 min read
Published 8 May 2017 at 1:55pm
By Greg Prichard