Follow along LIVE as KEEPUP brings you all the goals, highlights, up to date scores and biggest talking points from the Liberty A-League Preliminary Final on Saturday afternoon..
Sydney FC coach Ante Juric has heaped praise on Mackenzie Hawkesby after a masterful performance in their 1-0 Preliminary Final win over Melbourne Victory, saying he hopes the gun midfielder never leaves the club.
Hawkesby helped set the tempo for the Sky Blues in the middle of the park, standing out particularly in the first-half as they looked to take it right to a very compact and well organised Victory back-line.
Her performance ultimately helped Sydney over the line, as Madison Haley bundled home the winner to secure their place in the decider next Sunday at CommBank Stadium, the same team that defeated them in the Semi Final last week.
“She’s outstanding. I hope she never goes. She’s going to be hard to replace. She’s phenomenal,” Juric said.
“I said we did well – I think the first half we were lacking a little bit. We were either nervous or something – except Macca. She drove everyone. First half she was exceptional, the second half even better.
“With her energy she just thrives – and her quality, it’s not just energy, it’s quality – she’s been unbelievable this year. The biggest credit I can give her is I don’t want to lose her.”
The Sky Blues had to be patient for their opening, facing enormous resistance from a Victory defence the just wouldn’t yield under enormous duress.
Juric said he was “worried” their good work would go unrewarded, but he also felt confident Sydney would progress, despite their finals hoodoo – that has seen them lose the last three Grand Finals and lose the Week One Semi to their opponents next week.
“I think we deserved it on today’s game and last week, in terms of dominating in possession and relentless attacking,” he said.
“I was a little bit worried, because sometimes football comes and hurts you when you least expect it, so I was glad and super happy we got to the Grand Final again.
“I’m so happy with the year, the way we play – especially defending and attack – and having the best in both areas. I can’t say anything else, but yeah, very proud.
“Very similar to a lot of games. We just bombard, and try and go forward. We wanted to hit Madison’s feet, and try and use Vine and Prinny which we did a few times. Madison holds up the ball well, we wanted forward runners because we knew they’d be behind the ball. Just trying to create little pockets as well.
“It’s tougher to do than saying it, because they defend so deeply and quite (well). We had a few chances, we just couldn’t put them away.
“Once you start playing the game and we miss a few chances, you have that thing. But I don’t know why, but I felt we were confident today as in we’ll get through.
“You have a feeling sometimes, as a player and a coach, and I had that today. And I have that at the moment, so I’m very confident in the future as well.
“You never know, the football Gods sometimes try and play tricks on you – you’ve got to deal with it and move on.”
Haley’s the hero as Sydney book place in sixth consecutive decider – ‘Oh my god, I love her!’
Finals come down to moments.
On Saturday afternoon, it was Madison Haley’s time to have her moment in the sun.
With extra time looming, Haley was in the right place at the right time to bundle home the winner.
Sydney FC captain Nat Tobin struggled to hide her emotions post-game, saying an element of deja vu began to creep in after Victory eked a 1-0 win over the Sky Blues in the 2021 Grand Final in similar circumstances.
“It’s a massive sigh of relief. I think we all started to get in our heads… the Grand Final two years ago and what happened then,” Tobin said post-game on Paramount +.
“But as soon as Madi put that one away. Oh my god, huge sigh of relief.
“With Madi up front, she’s such a big threat and then you’ve got likes of Cortnee (Vine) and ‘Prinny’ (Princess Ibini) as well, so yes I think we definitely have the manpower to do it. They did park the bus a little bit, which credit to them it was hard to get past them.
“But yeah, Madi, oh my god, I love her!”
Haley had been a thorn in Victory’s side the entire second-half, growing into the game after half-time and coming close to opening the scoring on a number of occasions as Sydney kept banging on the reigning champions’ goal.
And when the moment came for her to be the hero, she took it with both hands.
“We had been saying all game, follow everything and that was just kind of me trying to stick to the game plan,” Haley told Paramount +, as she recalled the goal.
“We knew extra time was kind of looming, perfect chance, I saw the ball fall in front of me, just get there, keep it low and obviously it went in, so super excited.”
It caps off an incredible first season in the Liberty A-League for Haley, who has been sensational since arriving in the Harbour City – scoring nine goals – but had been battling injuries towards the tail-end of the campaign.
On Saturday, the 24-year-old started for the first time since February 11, having made her last four appearances as a substitute, including last weekend’s Semi Final loss to Western.
Now, Haley is focused on ending the season with the A-League Women’s double and bring home Sydney’s first Championship since 2019 after losing the last three Grand Finals.
“My sister will be here next week, so going into this game, I thought we definitely need to make the Grand Final so I can make sure she was able to see me play down here,” she said.
“Ante spoke in our pre-match speech how we have actually never won the double so we’ve had our sights on it all season, but now we are really within touching distance. We were disappointed last week and now we’re here, and now it’s just about getting the job done.”