14/04/2024

Adelaide Comets player Nathan Andijanto trying to disposses Adelaide City Captain Matthew Halliday in the 2021 NPL SA Grand Final. (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms.)

Despite the two sides facing off on the final day of season 2021, the 2022 rematch sees both Adelaide City and the Adelaide Comets enter in completely different circumstances than they did a year ago.

The 2021 Grand Final signified the end of the suffering for Adelaide City, while the misery piled on for the Adelaide Comets. Even though both clubs have experienced periods of sustained success in the past decade, Grand Final day has historically been neither’s forte.

City may be seemingly winning for fun in this day and age, but the Black and White have been hardened by the disappointments of the past.

Despite making three Grand Finals in a row between 2016-2018, City was unable to claim victory in any of those attempts, its Championship drought stretching back to 2010 when it defeated the Blue Eagles for silverware before proceeding to lose the 2011 and 2012 Grand Finals as its barren run began.

The 2021 version of Adelaide City was a rejuvenated one, with veterans such as Nicholas Bucco, Joe Costa, and Matthew Halliday surrounded by the youthful exuberance that was introduced by new coach Paul Pezos, many of his imports being players that he coached during his time as Adelaide United NPL coach.

City may be entering the 2022 Grand Final as favourites after defeating the Comets in their 2021 encounter, but it was not always rosy for the Black and White in Pezos’ first season at the helm.

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Despite being dominant for a long stretch of the season, City experienced heartache aplenty, losing the Federation Cup Final to Adelaide Olympic despite outplaying their opposition, before dropping points on the final day of the home and away season, and subsequently being pipped to the Premiership by the Comets.

City’s penalty shootout coronation against the Comets in 2021 was as much elation as it was relief. Since then, Paul Pezos’ side has upped its own standards, claiming both the Federation Cup and the Premiership that eluded them the previous season, while only succumbing to one loss in the league.

City is no longer a side hoping for the best while expecting the worst. They are the standard setters with the pressure on expectations firmly on their shoulders, with the South Australian football community keenly observing how it will deal with it.

The 2021 Championship was a transformative one for Adelaide City, and it came at the expense of the Adelaide Comets. (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms).

When it comes to expectations, the Adelaide Comets have been made well aware of the toll they can take in recent years.

South Australia’s most consistent regular season side in the past three seasons has qualified for the Grand Final for the fourth successive time but unfortunately for everyone involved with the club, it is yet to taste victory on the big stage.

2019 saw the Comets fall to Campbelltown, a side that successfully defended its 2018 Championship, but with Barney Smith re-joining the club as a coach, fortunes seemed to take a turn for the better the following season.

In 2020, the Comets won the Premiership before qualifying for the Grand Final after comfortably dispatching Campbelltown in the second leg of their Semi-Final. Unfortunately for Smith and his side, two weeks later the Red Devils were back with the vengeance and claimed their third consecutive Championship.

2021 saw a new rival emerge for the Comets, one that was as adept to heartbreak in Adelaide City. Despite winning the Premiership and entering the Grand Final as favourites, the Comets let themselves down on the big stage for the third consecutive year, this time capitulating on penalties, once again making them a mere footnote in someone else’s story.

Despite not earning a top two finish in 2022, a first under Barney Smith’s current stint at the club, the Comets have returned for a fourth consecutive Grand Final. Even though they are not looking as potent in the final third as in previous years, they have found strength in a different way, having yet to concede this Finals series.

A year onward, South Australia no longer has two sides competing to end their respective hard-luck stories. Adelaide City has already managed to do so and since then, it has not stopped winning. Pezos and his men enter Friday night as the overwhelming favourites, a far cry from a year ago.

Despite the Comets not receiving the plaudits they are accustomed to, going under the radar is a new-found experience Barney Smith’s side may benefit from. The players are well aware of past failings, but if the 2022 finals series is any indication, the group has only gained strength and resilience from the disappointments of the past.

Coming into finals without the comfort of a second chance and with an injured keeper in Dan Vaughan taking the field out of necessity, many would have conjectured that the Comets’ ship had sailed.

Regardless of the outside noise, the Comets have been more stubborn than ever eliminating Croydon, the MetroStars, and Campbelltown while keeping all of its opposing sides scoreless.

Quelling City is its own challenge, but one the Comets will be approaching without fear and with nothing to lose. Adelaide City itself can be used as inspiration for the Comets, an example that no matter what past results say, you are always a chance on the day.

It would be a brave call to tip against Adelaide City and not many will. A side with quality throughout the park, there is a reason why Paul Pezos’ men have only been defeated once in the league in 2022.

City may only be a victory away from a South Australian treble, but experienced players like Nicholas Bucco and Matthew Halliday will not let their young teammates get complacent as their own heartbreaks have taught them too well not to take a stage like this for granted.

Regardless of the result, South Australian football history books will only be enriched by another chapter written between these two sides, Service FM Stadium at the State Centre for Football being the perfect stage to host this rematch; a first NPL Grand Final for the venue.

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