With an eye on history, Jonathan Cook wonders if there might yet be a twist to the Western Sydney Wanderers' maiden fairytale season
By JONATHAN COOK
And this is where the fairytale ends: on Sunday; around 6pm; in the surrounds of Allianz Stadium.
Here is where Western Sydney Wanderers' grand final dreaming gets its rude awakening.
It is not that the A-League's newest entity is incapable of putting Central Coast Mariners to the sword. Their 1-0 win at Bluetongue Stadium in their most recent encounter in March is evidence enough of their capacity to keep the dream alive, as was their momentous semi-final win over Brisbane Roar last Friday.
But football has a cruel capacity to scar a story-book ending just as easily as it has draped the Wanderers in a luxurious overcoat this season.
At the very highest level, think of North Korea beating Italy in 1966 and then blowing a 3-0 lead in the quarter finals to lose to Eusebio's Portugal. Think Roger Milla's Cameroon at the 1990 World Cup promising a shock of ages before blowing it against England. Think Senegal's astonishing victory against France in 2002 before eventual quarter-final defeat to Turkey.
All delivered great preludes to ultimate disappointment.
There is nothing quite like football for delivering a sting in the tail.
Of course, the Mariners have experienced their own bitter A-League narrative - three failed grand final appearances - and no other club would be more deserving of championship success.
But really, the story of this season has been of the rise and rise of coach of the year Tony Popovic's Wanderers and the irresistible march of his red-and-black army.
Disappointment is an all-too familiar feeling for the Central Coast Mariners when it comes to grand finals.
In Shinji Ono, the Wanderers have a remarkable talent whose goal against Roar provided a wonderful example of the art of the game. Attacking midfielder Youssouf Hersi's rash tackles and red card, which have ruled the Dutchman out of the big game, were in stark contrast to Ono's majesty.
Hersi's effervescent presence has been important to the Wanderers charge this season and his expulsion could turn out to be just the invitation for the Mariners to crash the party, although Central Coast's Nick Montgomery suffered a similar fate in his side's semi-final win over Melbourne Victory on Sunday.
The winner of this grand final, though, will be the team which is most effective in its supply to the front men and the efficiency of those at the pointy end. The Wanderers have potency in Ono and Mark Bridge, but in Daniel McBreen the Mariners have the league's most proficient predator. An 18-goal haul speaks volumes for the 35-year-old's voracious appetite.
Of course, if the Wanderers fall at this, the final hurdle, they will be able to point to the Premiers' Plate already collected after their earlier exertions as evidence of their superiority to trigger the age-old debate.
Some will say the finals series is the Australian way of determining ultimate victory. Others will argue that in a relatively low-scoring sport, sometimes of very few goal-scoring chances, the champion team is that which has risen to the top over the long-haul of a home-and-away season.
There is one way to avoid the argument this time and that is for the Wanderers to add the championship trophy to their Premiers' Plate. But do not bank on it.
Jonathan Cook was football writer for The West Australian newspaper for 17 years. He covered Glory’s highs and lows for 15 seasons. He also reported on two World Cups, three Olympic Games and two Commonwealth Games.