‘No other team has been close… this is the best team in history’

Check out the highlights from Sydney FC's Championship win over Melbourne City at AAMI Park.

Ante Juric fronted the media as the head coach of a team that had just won back-to-back Liberty A-League Championships in their seventh successive Grand Final appearance.

Sydney FC stand alone after Saturday evening’s 1-0 win over reigning premiers Melbourne City at AAMI Park – no other team has won five Championships like the Sky Blues.

It was another memorable night in the history of a Sydney side who successfully defended a title for the first time in their illustrious history.

Yet, Sydney boss Juric’s response to the side’s historic feat was telling.

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“Even now I’m gutted we didn’t win the Premiership when we had it in our hands,” Juric told reporters after a 4-0 loss to Melbourne Victory in the final round saw City pip his team to the Premiership. “We could’ve had a double-double.

“I’m gutted we lost to Melbourne Victory those two times (in Grand Finals) when it was the 120th minute. When you look at the little moments, we could have had four Championship doubles in a row. That’s how close we were. That tells me how good this group has been.

“Macka (Mackenzie Hawkesby) has been a part of that, Viney (Cortnee Vine), Jada (Whyman). They don’t get enough credit for what they have achieved because that’s enormous.

“To be that close to winning four doubles in a row. No other team has been close like that. This current group, regardless of stats, is the best team in history in terms of how long they’ve done it and the success they’ve had.

“I’m proud of that. We still have young players so hoping to do it again next season.”

Shea Connors was the hero for Sydney in front of a crowd of more than 7,600 fans in Melbourne – the second largest Liberty A-League Grand Final attendance.

Her goal 21 minutes from the end ruined City’s perfect record in Grand Finals, having been four from four previously.

Sydney had absorbed City’s pressure and waited to pick off their opponents. In Juric’s words, it was “ugly” and not how he planned it.

But it helped cap an incredible season for Sydney, the “most special”, according to Juric.

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The 2023-24 campaign had been challenging after the success of the previous term – Charlize Rule, Sarah Hunter, Rachel Lowe, Madison Haley, Anna Green, Deborah-Anne De la Harpe and Mackenzie Hawkesby (who returned later in the season) all departed after winning last season’s Championship.

They also lost Nat Tobin, Kirsty Fenton and Fiona Worts to serious injuries, while Matildas star Cortnee Vine also missed portions of the season.

Yet, Sydney still reigned supreme.

“It sounds bad but it’s the most special because we lost so many Grand Finalists from last season,” Juric reflected. “Mackenzie sabotaged my leaving but then she came back – she felt bad for me.

“She changed a lot. She changed the off-field dynamics because we were struggling with leadership and energy. Super proud because the age of the kids, players coming in late, young kids playing, losing players to national teams, some injured… it all just happened but I’m pretty positive and happy with people that come in.

“I don’t care who comes in, we just do a job. Super proud. Really hard to do what we did.”

As Juric mentioned, Sydney lost a host of stars at the end of 2022-23 though Cortnee Vine stayed on.

Will that be the case again in 2024-25?

“We will move some players on. some didn’t fit and some good injured,” Juric said. “I definitely want to keep as many as I can, especially the core.

“I don’t think we will lose anyone overseas this time. Maybe Viney the one potentially, maybe Jada but the rest will hopefully stay. I did say that last year and lost seven (laughing).”