The A-League finals are as pulsating as ever, with only four teams left to go head to head in the semi-finals to decide the two that will compete on the biggest stage there is.
Sydney FC is looking for a record breaking three A-League titles in a row, after winning the grand final under Steve Corica in 2019 and 2020.
They are also looking for their fourth A-League title in five seasons, after Alex Brosque lifted the plate approximately five years ago after dominating the league throughout the regular campaign.
In 2017, after coming first, Sydney secured its spot in the grand final with a comfortable 3-0 win over Perth Glory in the semis.
Goals from Joshua Brillante, Jordy Buijs and Filip Holosko in the first half made the game a relatively easy, dry affair.
The grand final was the complete opposite for the Sky Blue faithful, who would have experienced a plethora of emotions over the 120-plus minutes that their team played.
The crowd of 41,546 people was majorly made up of Sydney fans, but it was rivals Melbourne Victory who opened the scoring in the 20th minute thanks to a fantastic Besart Berisha solo run and finish.
But Sydney weren’t put down by the early concession, and continued to play its football in an attempt to find an equaliser.
However, things weren’t working for Graham Arnold’s Sky Blue side, and in the 59th minute he brought off Filip Holosko for the experienced David Carney.
“Obviously, it was the grand final and it was a tough game, we were 1-0 down,” Carney told The Inner Sanctum, reflecting on the substitution.
“The atmosphere was electric and it was just the right time to come on.
“It was a real quick game and the pitch was rough so I think there was a lot of tired legs on both sides, so I just thought it was a good time to come on and get at them.”
Carney certainly did that, confusing the Melbourne Victory defence with his creativity and cleverness, on and off the ball.
Just ten minutes after Carney’s introduction, Sydney finally found its equaliser, with the Socceroo playing a major part.
“We were trying our hardest, we kept putting the ball in the box,” Carney said.
“I think (Brandon) O’Neill played the cross and Jordy Buijs sort of chested and tried to shoot, and the ball just came to me, and I just tried to do something, fake a dummy to try and get the shot away.
“I think it was Carl Valeri that was behind me and I just tried to show him that I was going one way before letting the ball roll the other way.
“I took a touch with my left and hit it with my right, and unfortunately, it didn’t go in.”
It felt as if that was the moment – that it just wouldn’t be Sydney’s day.
“But then luckily enough Rhyan Grant was there, Johnny on the spot to tap it in.”
It was a massive moment in the context of the game, and Carney showed that emotion in his celebration, running the opposite way from his teammates to celebrate the goal.
“It was just excitement, I was just ecstatic that we scored the goal and to celebrate,” Carney said.
“All the fans erupted, it was a great atmosphere and it was one of those where you just don’t know what to do with yourself.”
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Despite consistently threatening, Sydney couldn’t find a winner in normal or extra time, meaning the game was forced to penalties to decide the champion of the A-League.
Both teams calmly converted their first spot kick, but Alex Wilkinson, taking Sydney’s second penalty, dragged a low shot wide of the post.
After Leigh Broxham scored, it was crucial that Sydney scored their third penalty to maintain any form of hope within the shootout.
“I was confident.” Carney said.
“I always wanted to take a pen (in the shootout).
“I didn’t know which one, whether it was the first or the fifth, but I just wanted to make sure I had a pen because I think with the games, especially finals, experienced players need to stand up.
“With me being one of the experienced players still on the pitch, I’ve got to make sure that I stand up.
“Penalties aren’t for everyone, you see a lot of players miss them and there was a lot of luck and bad luck in my years, but I think it’s important that the experienced players step up at those times.”
Carney calmly converted his spot kick, outfoxing Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas.
“I didn’t know which way I was going to go, it was just when the penalties happened I sort of starting thinking about what I was going to do,” Carney said.
“I sort of saw the keeper (Lawrence Thomas) doing a couple little things, so I thought that because I was left-footed he would think that I was just going to try to whip it into the right corner.
“I thought I would just try to outsmart him and did a little shimmy to pretend I was going to go that way (right) before just going the other way.
“It was just something where I needed to be composed, hit the spot and just make sure I hit the back of the net because Wilks (Alex Wilkinson) missed so it was really important for me just to score.”
The shootout dramatically turned on his head, with Melbourne missing two penalties in a row.
After Milos Ninkovic stroked his shot home, Sydney were the champions of Australia.
“I remember just the celebrations after and the feeling when Ninko (Milos Ninkovic) scored, it was just unreal,” Carney said when describing the feeling of winning the grand final.
“The fans made it. It was at Allianz Stadium, it was a full house and it was electric, so when Ninko scored that it was just an unbelievable atmosphere.
“The feeling of it, and to play your part as well was amazing. It was well deserved, obviously, we won the league with it so we deserved to be the champions, but it was an amazing feeling.”
But where does this rank upon the achievements within his career?
“I remember one of my memorable ones was making my debut in the Premier League,” Carney said.
“I always wanted to play in the Prem, it was at St James Park in Newcastle and I remember that, and it was a great feeling for myself.
“But as for live atmosphere and just that game itself and the way I was allowed to come on and play my part, it (the 2017 grand final) was definitely one of the moments that I’ll never forget and definitely one of the highlights of my career.”
David Carney experienced a plethora of positive emotions as a player, gaining 48 caps for the Socceroos, playing in the Premier League and winning his second A-League grand final with Sydney FC.
As for Carney’s advice for the teams participating this weekend?
“I would just say to relax and try not to overplay the game in your head.
“Just enjoy the occasion!”
Carney’s former side Sydney FC play Adelaide United on Saturday for a spot in the A-League 2020/21 Grand Final.
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