How do you top that? A brilliantly dramatic season ended with the last kick – a corner that went straight in and delivered Victory the Championship, even better at the home of rivals Sydney FC.
Now Jeff Hopkins’s side has the pressure of incumbency to live up to, havinglost their captain and the Matildas’ second highest goalscorer.
Major ins: Courtney Nevin, Paige Zois, Harriet Withers.
Major outs: Angela Beard, Lisa De Vanna
Head coach: Jeff Hopkins
Victory record: 64 games, 28 wins, 12 draws, 24 losses
Quietly spoken, Hopkins is a players’ coach who deserved to see his Victory side triumph in the lions’ den of Sydney FC’s home ground in last year’s grand final. After more than 20 years in coaching, the former Welsh international has won the double with Brisbane and a previous Premier’s Plate with Victory, before this year’s triumph – no wonder Victory tied him down for another two seasons.
Hopkins last year became the first coach to oversee 100 games in the women’s league and much of that has come at the helm of Victory, a club he has rebuilt over five years – the first two of which they came last.
Now Hopkins has the rather different challenge of trying to go back to back, and encouragingly has kept the bulk of last year’s squad.
Georgia Yeoman-Dale’s Predicted XI
- Channel 10/Paramount+ football analyst Georgia Yeoman-Dale gives her verdict on the Melbourne Victory squad.
Strength: “A very good backline. They’ve lost Angie Beard but they’ve filled the gap pretty quickly with Courtney Nevin. That back four is solid.
“Kayla Morrison and Claudia Bunge had arguably the best centreback pairing last season and they are only going to get better after a season playing with each other.”
Weakness: “A lack of depth in the squad beyond the starting XI. Have they got depth off the bench? It’s a great starting XI, but who’s the impact player?”
Key player: “Kyra Cooney-Cross now has international experience, she’s coming off the back of an Olympics campaign.
“She’s made her Matildas debut since the end of last season, and she’s played in almost every Matildas game since.How much has she grown as a player, and how much better is she going to be in the A-League / Women’s because of that?”
Verdict: “Definitely top four and will compete for trophies again. It’s almost hard to not pick them as Champions or Premiers already.”
Can’t take your eyes off: Kyra Cooney-Cross
It seems to incredible to reflect that at 19, Victory’s tyro playmaker has been playing professionally in the women’s league for four years. But she was marked out as a special talent from the beginning, and her touch and vision have been well rewarded over the past 12 months with a championship medal and game time at the Olympics, as well as being voted the league’s young player of the year.
Her game has the lot: the ability to finish, pace to get into good positions, a eye for a killer pass and excellent dead-ball delivery (as shown by that corner in the 120th minute of the grand final that swirled over goalkeeper Jada Whyman and in to win the championship).
Cooney-Cross has an equally big couple of years ahead, seemingly certain to go to the Asian Cup in January with the Matildas and having a World Cup on home soil to look forward to in 2023 – plus more immediately, a title defence with Victory.
Reasons to be cheerful: at a club known for its stability – at least in the women’s side of things – it’s little surprise that most of last season’s title-winning squad has been retained. Victory were one of the first teams to offer its female players multi-year deals, and Jeff Hopkins has built for the long term.
In Courtney Nevin, Hopkins has brought in a young defender very much on the Matildas radar, while Harriet Withers brings pace and dynamism upfront having be lured across town from Melbourne City.
But for the most part, , an off-season of as-you-were should be the precursor to another strong title push, from a squad that now knows how to do it successfully.
… and reasons to be fearful: if you were going to take just two players out of a title-winning squad, Lisa De Vanna and Angela Beard would be among the very last a coach would nominate. At different ends of the pitch – and their careers – both contributed hugely to last year’s success.
De Vanna was brought in by Jeff Hopkins as an enforcer of high standards at training and in games; the former Matilda is so demanding of herself, let alone others, and she proved her worth with the goal of the year and a string of influential performances.
Beard meanwhile was a key part of the league’s third most miserly defence last year as captain, but left to play in Denmark in June. Replacing the departed duo’s influence is a key part of Hopkins’s preparation for the new campaign.
OUR LIBERTY A-LEAGUE SEASON PREVIEWS
By Tom Smithies and Matt Comito
Adelaide United: Can Chelsie Dawber lead the Reds into the post-season?
Brisbane Roar: Gorry returns – but do departures take their toll?
Canberra United: Tune in to the Heyman and Sykes renaissance
Melbourne City: Another season of obscurity for the heavyweights?
Melbourne Victory: Can the champions go back-to-back?
Newcastle Jets: Do international arrivals boost Newcastle’s chances?
Perth Glory: De Vanna arrives eager bounce Perth back up the table
Wellington Phoenix: can the exuberance of youth help Wellington make a fast start?
Western Sydney Wanderers: Can coach Cannuli inspire a postseason charge?