|By JOHN GRECO
He has been their lucky charm and a constant threat all season, but Youssouf Hersi has become the heartbreak story of grand final week for the Western Sydney Wanderers.
While the Wanderers were celebrating winning through to next Sunday's A-League decider after beating Brisbane 2-0, the shine over the achievement was dulled somewhat by the late red card to their tireless winger.
Hersi, who has been so pivotal to the Wanderers' success this, was needlessly dismissed for two foolish tackles that will see him banned for the biggest match of the season.
"It's hard to say I'm not disappointed with that," Wanderers boss Tony Popovic said of Hersi's brain-snap afterwards.
"Youssouf always plays at 100 percent
"He's great for the team. He's unpredictable, his intensity is high, he gives everything he has and it's all at 100 miles an hour."
It's the second time this season the Ethiopian-born winger has been sent off and comes just two games after he had served another suspension for a build-up of yellow cards.
Popovic said it is Hersi's enthusiasm – rather than a lack of discipline – which has cost him a start in the A-League's showpiece match.
"It's just that exuberance that unfortunately has cost him," Popovic said.
"It's certainly not malice. It's a shame he won't get to show his skills out there in the grand final.
"But we'll get someone else in there and put them in with confidence and know they'll do a job."
Young winger Kwabena Appiah-Kubi has filled in for Hersi when he has missed games during the season and he seems like the most likely replacement to take on the winner of the Central Coast-Melbourne Victory semi-final, while central midfielder Aaron Mooy is also fit to return.
Hersi's moment of madness could not fully detract from another memorable match at Parramatta Stadium.
Wanderers skipper Michael Beauchamp was presented with the Premiers' Plate at full-time, with the majority of the 19,369 fans staying back to celebrate what has been an astonishing debut season.
While delighted with everything the club and his side had achieved, Popovic still was not allowing himself to get carried away.
"I just feel like there's still more to do next week," he said.
"It's not daunting though at all.
"The Premiers' Plate was different. When we won in Newcastle we knew we had won it and achieved something.
"But in this finals series we've achieved nothing yet.
"So come next Sunday we'll do everything we can to hold up another trophy."