What a beautiful day, I thought, as I walked to AAMI Park in the perfect sunshine. What a beautiful day to watch the Vuck stroll to a home final. Living in Melbourne is the best, hey? I was already planning the day – a row of GA seats for friends, watching the Dub conclusion with a bev and a stunning atmosphere.
I momentarily forgot about Sam Kerr. My bad.
Things were going well at first. Christine Nairn did a Christine Nairn in the 2nd minute of the game, hitting a goal from near the corner flag (an attempted cross that Eliza Campbell parried into her own goal mind you, but hey, semantics). They didn’t seem satisfied with the lead. Victory completely dominated the first quarter of the game. It should have seen them score more than the one goal and, had they done so, the final result may have been quite different.
I often joke that Perth’s entire game plan this season rests on their midfield kicking people over before passing the loose ball to Sam Kerr or Rachel Hill. They can do the rest on the counter. Usually this means that the opposition midfield has the run of things and Victory certainly did so for the first part of the game. Today, Perth managed to wrest control of the game largely through a fantastic performance from Shannon May. The ground that she was able to cover at the base of a midfield 3 meant that by the end of the first half and for the rest of the game Victory had nowhere to go.
The game was evenly poised at half time. Victory had the lead but Glory were beginning to turn the screws. The turning point for me was the forced substitution of Victory keeper Casey Dumont. She’s had an incredible season – for me, a contender for keeper of the season alongside her counterpart Eliza Campbell. She was forced off at half time after failing a concussion test. She received the head knock around the 20th minute and obviously had shown signs of some delayed symptoms in the dressing room. I don’t think that her replacement, Beth Mason-Jones, had played a game all season and unfortunately it showed.
Don’t get me wrong – as a keeper you both dread and dream of this moment. Coming on at half time in a semi final… this could be your moment. You could be the star. Unfortunately, you could also struggle. Training is always different to a game scenario and playing with a back line that you are largely unfamiliar with was always going to be difficult. Replacing one of the best keepers in Australia was going to be harder.
Anyway. At this point I’d gotten myself up, gotten for a walk around half the stadium, started stress eating cold pizza from last night, and slightly panicking. Could Victory hold on to their 1-0 lead? My non-football supporting partner began to berate me. Typical Sokkah, one goal in the 2nd minute and then nothing else. Unbelievable.
Well, in typical Dub fashion, things began to spiral out of control.
In any game involving Sam Kerr you expect a Sam Kerr goal. It came as little surprise to anyone when she managed to somehow turn her body around in mid air to backheel a finish past the keeper into the back of the net. Seriously, watch the replay – it’s a ridiculous bit of athleticism. If that was me I would’ve missed the ball by a metre and end up flat on my face.
The goal was coming. Perth had the run of play in the second half – it seemed like a matter of time before they would convert one of their chances. Could Victory find another gear?
Their task was made more difficult when Nairn could hardly walk from the 70th minute. The Victory supporters around me were getting restless. Why was she still playing? She was spending more time stretching than she was on the ball. She’s such a key player for them but seeing her remain on the field when she could have been subbed off was very frustrating, apparently, for the young man and his father behind me who literally talked of nothing else for the rest of the game.
Things were especially not helped for Victory when the dream team, Kerr and Hill, combined once more this season to see Hill slot it home. It was 2-1 with not long to go and at this point I was already beginning to look up the cost of flights to Sydney or Brisbane.
I don’t know why I doubted the power of the Dub for one second. Of course, against all the run of play, Victory equalised. Of course they did. It wouldn’t be the Dub without another twist. Grace Maher chose the best possible moment to score her first goal for Victory after a bit of pinball from a Nairn free kick. I guess that’s why she remained on the field, hey fellas? You can never count out a Victory side with Nairn on set piece duty.
Alright. Breathe. Bonus football. Extra time. Let’s go.
I’m sure you all know the Sam Kerr was going to go on and score a hattrick so I don’t need to describe what happened. You know, the audacious chip to make it 3, the tap in after putting McKenna through to make it 4, the backflip. I usually enjoy those backflips. Not today. Sam Kerr, you’ve cost us a home final, you horrible genius asshole.
Just as important than her goals was putting her side a player up. She knew exactly what she was doing when she crashed into an already yellow-carded Sam Johnson after she had broken through the Vuck midfield. Johnson’s subsequent sending off left Victory a player down, a goal down, one of their best players on one leg, their inspirational keeper in the sheds and the rest of the team exhausted. For me, that was the moment where the game was won.
It sucks for Victory. Finishing on top in the regular season was a reward in itself after many seasons of struggle but crashing out in the semi final will be a pretty horrible thing to digest. Unfortunately they ran into terrible injury luck on the same day as their inspirational captain and striker Dowie was slightly off, and the greatest striker in the world on the other side of the field was very, very on. What can you do?
The gap between Perth’s best and worst is very large. If they produce their best next week, Sydney will be totally unable to stop them. A very small part of me hopes they show their best. It’s what Sam Kerr deserves.
(Imagine the Simpsons ‘do it for her’ meme with pictures of Sam Kerr instead of Maggie here. I’m too lazy to do it myself. What do you think this is, a professional operation?)
By Taryn Heddo