CURSE BROKEN: Sydney FC crowned Liberty A-League champions after 4-0 demolition of Western United

Sky Blues claim record-equalling fourth Championship with dominant display, writes Tom Smithies at CommBank Stadium.

They would not be denied. The hoodoo is over, the curse is lifted; Sydney FC are the Liberty A-League champions and the Grand Final of 2023 became a glorious moment in their history.

Two goals from Madison Haley, a header from Nat Tobin and a penalty from Princess Ibini barely began to tell the tale of how the Sky Blues took a grip on this contest and never let go. After losing the last three grand finals, Ante Juric’s side finally found a way to prove they are the best team in the competition.

RECAP: Re-live the 2023 Liberty A-League Grand Final

In front of a record crowd for a women’s domestic football match in Australia, 9,519, Juric’s side was simply irresistible. Crowned as premiers four weeks ago, they simply never looked like passing up another opportunity to be the champions.

For Western United, the greatest story of this season, this occasion felt like one peak too many to be scaled. A fortnight previously they had shocked Sydney at Allianz Stadium in their Semi Final, but the suspicion lingered that the physical and emotional strength found that day might have been unrepeatable. 

That day they had won so many physical battles and effectively faced down Sydney with a style of football that even their own coach admitted was low on aesthetics. But this time they barely got out of the starting blocks before finding themselves chasing the game.

After hammering on the Western door for 90 minutes to no avail in their Semi Final, Sydney took all of three minutes to force it open in the game where it really mattered.

For a team so wedded to high-octane attacking football it was a remarkably simple goal, Mackenzie Hawkesby’s corner beyond the far post met by Madison Haley’s header into the back of the net.

The goal sparked something of an inquest among the Western defence, though Haley’s ability to leap highest and hang in the air means several defenders were left in her wake. But worse was to follow for that same defence with the game just 18 minutes old.

Sarah Hunter, centre, leaps to tackle Adriana Taranto in the grand final.

By then Hannah Keane, the competitions’s Golden Boot, had squandered a half chance by shooting over, and it proved costly when Mackenzie again swung over a corner for Sydney. This time, Hillary Beall’s leap managed to foil Haley but only by diverting the ball towards Nat Tobin. On her 100th appearance for Sydney, the captain’s looping header evaded two defenders on the line to double the Sky Blues’ advantage.

Western’s captain called her whole team into a huddle in a bid to reset, but the scale of the task ahead of them looked daunting in the extreme.

Wave after wave of Sydney attacks targeted the Western goal and it took dubious means at times to repel, Sydney Cummings booked for a crude challenge on Haley.

Finally, with halftime close, Western mounted a brief spell of pressure, and it took two fine saves from Jada Whyman to prevent them securing a foothold in the contest – leaping to her left to keep out a Keane shot, then racing off her line to deny Adriana Taranto. Those would, it soon became clear, be pivotal moments.

Cortnee Vine of Sydney FC takes a shot in the grand final.

Buoyed by their lead and energised by the break, Sydney just tightened their grip on the game. Making light of successive ankle knocks, Cortnee Vine forced Beall into two fine saves, but the imminence of a third goal began to feel inevitable.

Ibini was the architect and the executor, driving into the penalty area and getting a hand on her arm from Stacey Papadopoulos; the resultant penalty was confidently dispatched.

As a contest, the game was over, with Western’s tread getting more laborious by the minute. The introduction of Indiana Dos Santos, the youngest player in a women’s Grand Final at 15 years and 247 days, added another footnote of history; then Haley’s second goal of the night procured the first ever four-goal margin in an A-Leagues Women’s grand final. Ibini’s cross caused chaos in the Western box, and though Beall denied Haley the first time, Sydney’s American striker drove home the rebound.

This was the night the best team in the competition made history for all the right reasons. They are champions and deservedly so.