Sydney FC took four minutes to find answer to question they couldn’t escape: It won them the Grand Final

Taryn Heddo analyses where the 2023 Liberty A-League Grand Final was won and lost for KEEPUP.

COMMBANK STADIUM — Sydney FC are 2022-23 A-League Women champions, demolishing Western United 4-0 at CommBank Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Everything that came together for Western United two weeks ago when they defeated the same opponents in the Semi Final came undone in the Championship decider. In the game that mattered most they were outmuscled, outfought, and outplayed by the Premiers, the first team to complete the Premiership-Championship double since Melbourne City in 2016.

There were three main factors for Sydney FC’s victory – their mastery of the physical battle, the midfield, and their finishing finally coming together at the right moment.

Physical Battle

In the Semi Final that Western United won 1-0, Mark Torcaso’s side very much won the physical battle. They won more duels, more tackles, and you got the sense that Sydney were stifled by an organised team that were united in hunger for the win.

In the Grand Final, the opposite was true. Sydney FC were the team who came ready for the fight. Both of their first half goals came from corners. The first: a straightforward outmuscling of Western’s defence at the back post from a rising Madison Haley. The second: an almost identical corner – this time Haley’s header deflected into the path of captain Nat Tobin in her 100th game, who was able to head home.

One standout in particular for Sydney FC was Charlize Rule, who was imperious at right-back. It took former Young Matildas teammate Kahli Johnson switching flanks to get away from her to begin to have an impact on the game midway through the first half. Rule was able to consistently use her height and strength, unusual for a full-back, to not allow Western United room on the wings.

It’s a facile cliché to say that they “wanted it more” – it’s fair to say both teams wanted it, quite a lot – but Sydney FC clearly learned from their defeat two weeks ago. They came prepared for the physical battle and they came out on top. Both sides will be carrying bruises from the game but Sydney FC stood up to every single challenge and, in a boxing match, would’ve won with unanimous assent.


The two midfields lined up differently from the Semi Final two weeks ago. Western United swapped Melissa Taranto out for their captain Jaclyn Sawicki, the Filipino international patrolling as the deep-lying number six. Meanwhile, in Sky Blue, Rachel Lowe dropped into midfield and Madison Haley started in place of 15-year-old Indiana Dos Santos.

With the exception of Mackenzie Hawkesby, Sydney’s midfield was stifled by Western United’s physicality in the Semi Final. In the Big Dance, it was one of Sydney’s midfielders who stood out as the conductor of their opportunities. Rachel Lowe, who had been playing backup to Madison Haley as the central striker for most of the season, revelled in her ability to show off her technical ability in tight spaces. Everything was going through her – she turned away from the attentions of Sawicki time and time again, outwitting Western’s captain throughout her 78 minutes on the pitch.

The Taranto who did start for Western, Adriana, had a few opportunities but was repeatedly snuffed out by a rejuvenated Sarah Hunter. In fact, Hunter – who was bodied out of much of the game two weeks ago – acted as a sturdy and solid base to Sydney in possession. With Hawkesby finalising the trio in a classic creative performance – assisting both first half goals from corners – there was little Western United could do to stop them.

Taking Chances

One big question dogged Sydney FC in the lead up to this Grand Final, something that in a knock-out game they could not escape from. Would they be able to take their chances?

It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of imagination to assume that a fourth minute goal from Madison Haley – rather emphatically answering that question – might have helped settle some nerves.

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

In the Semi Final, it took one clear-cut opportunity for Hannah Keane to score the decisive goal. This game, Western United fans watched helplessly as opportunity after opportunity was lost. Moment after moment that could have wrestled momentum away from Sydney FC either flashed high, or was batted away by a fantastic Jada Whyman.

In the end, the scoreline was comfortable. However, there was a period of real domination towards the end of the first half where it looked like Western United would be able to pull a goal back from 2-0 down. It is, the cliché goes, the most dangerous lead in football – and had Western scored before half time the game would’ve had a much different feel. Unfortunately for Western, they couldn’t, and Sydney FC would go on to double their lead in the second.


Ante Juric said, after his side’s Semi Final loss – albeit, with more than a hint of being tongue in cheek – that his team didn’t mind the defeat, having to play one extra game in their path to the Grand Final. They would take what they learned, go again, and come back stronger.

Come back stronger they did. Every factor in their loss two weeks ago was nullified. They were ruthless. It was a victory befitting of the dominant team in the competition in the Ante Juric era. In their sixth consecutive Grand Final, the sense of doom around Sydney FC and Grand Finals is broken.

The defeat is heartbreaking for Western United. They worked extremely hard, and defied every set of odds under the sun to challenge for both the Premiership and the Championship in the way that they did.But it was Sydney FC’s day. In the end, Ante Juric and his team made good on their promise. They learned. They grew. They were inevitable. It was captain Nat Tobin, in her 100th game, who lifted the trophy for the first time since her first.