|By PADDY HIGGS at ALLIANZ STADIUM
Chief editor - Australia
Tony Popovic says the pride of the Western Sydney Wanderers' first season will last far longer than the sting of their A-League grand final loss to the Central Coast Mariners.
The fairytale ending many expected to the Wanderers' campaign failed to materialise in Sunday's final, with the Mariners clinching a 2-0 win to claim their own maiden championship.
Popovic's disappointment was expected and obvious, with the Wanderers coach believing his side "conceded at the wrong times" when Patrick Zwaanswijk and then Daniel McBreen [from the penalty spot] netted for the Mariners either side of half-time.
"We really wanted to win that game, and maybe overall we weren’t quite good enough," the former Australia international told reporters after the match.
"… Today they were the better team and they won."
But despite the disappointing end to the season, Popovic said the Wanderers' season - in which they won the Premiers' Plate and established a fervent supporter base - would always be a success.
"For me, at the moment it does [detract from the season's successes]. [But] I'm sure tomorrow when we wake up, and probably later tonight when we reflect on the season, of course we're proud.
"We're proud as a football club… We're all proud in our different areas that we've helped start up this club. Look at the fan base we've got?
"There's a lot of positives. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to strive to be better in every department, on and off the field.
"That's something that will drive us for next year, that's for sure."
With the Mariners' defence keeping their opponents' chances to a minimum, the Wanderers' best chance was when Central Coast right-back Pedj Bojic appeared to handle the ball in the area. Zwaanswijk had handed the Mariners the lead just moments earlier, and Popovic's frustration was amplified when a handball was paid against Jerome Polenz in the second half.
McBreen's subsequent conversion from the spot gave the Mariners an advantage they never gave up.
"I thought it was a penalty. They are those decisions, you know?" Popovic said.
"It's a big game, a big moment. We'd just conceded a minute earlier. That changes everything - the whole game changes by that moment.
"You can say it was deliberate or not, but Jerome Polenz didn't mean to handball the ball either.
"When we get told it wasn't deliberate, our one wasn’t deliberate as well.
"But, he didn't give it and we had to move on in the second half… At 2-0, they are a very good side and they knew how to shut the game down very well."