THE sonic boom emanated from the Sydney Football Stadium, surged up the F3, reverberated around the Central Coast and streamed over the Internet to all points of the globe before landing split seconds later in my kitchen in Cambridgeshire. My laptop hit the ceiling, writes the Wizard of Oz.
It was the 65th minute of the Grand Final and Daniel McBreen had just belted the ball from the penalty spot past the wrong-footed Ante Covic. Covic had not conceded a penalty all season but he had now! 2-0 to the Mariners: game over.
It wasn’t the first time my laptop hit the ceiling; the sonic boom had already gone viral in the 43rd minute when Patrick Zwaanswijk headed past the stationary Covic to confirm the Mariners’ first half dominance.
And it was to happen again when Peter Green blew the whistle and Julie Goodyear started singing.
Mariners! Champions! What a beautiful noise!
Brushing aside early Wanderers attempts which yielded two corners the Mariners set about their task and rolled out their full game repertoire; a combination described by one scribe as ‘Silk and Steel’, they were at the top of their game.
After just four minutes Pedj Bojic brilliantly beat Shannon Cole to set up Bernie Ibini but Bernie lent back and hit ball went over. On eight minutes Mile Sterjovski intelligently broke the offside line to connect with Trent Sainsbury’s long ball but his lob went a fraction high and skipped off the bar. It was a wonderful chance and an indication that the Mariners were in the mood today.
The Mariners were mixing up their game: slick sharp fast inter-passing balanced with potent long balls forward from Sainsbury and Zwaanswijk. Bojic and Bernie were making inroads down the right; Josh Rose finding acres of space on the left. When Oliver Bozanic plays, Rose plays well. Bozanic was everywhere in midfield and John Hutchinson was cool and calm sweeping in front of the back four.
The Wanderers warned the Mariners not to get complacent – an excellent ball out by Shinji Ono (the only thing of note the Japanese marquee achieved all game) finding Mark Bridge whose cross was centimetres away from Dino Kresinger’s bony forehead.
The Mariners shrugged off that cheeky incursion and cranked it up again; Sainsbury almost getting to a half-chance after WSW failed to clear and minutes later a sharp intelligent move had Rose free on the left and his cross was almost met by the sliding Ibini.
A too casual Mat Ryan was caught napping by the pace of Mariners NYL old boy Kwabena Appiah-Kubi when the speedster stole the ball but could not make anything of it. Appiah-Kubi had been the sole shining light for the Wanderers, his pace and confidence stretching Rose to the limit.
The Mariners relentlessly kept pushing forward, always attacking with menace; they always finish the first half strongly, Bernie hit a half-chance straight at Covic and then Michael McGlinchey made a brilliant blind side run but his gentle inviting cross could not find a willing Mariner.
Wanderers had not conceded a goal direct from a corner all season but that record was shredded in the 43rd minute. McGlinchey’s inch perfect cross was emphatically met by Zwaanswijk whose header left Covic standing like a statue.
Cue laptop meeting ceiling. It was a scientifically crafted goal – as big man Michael Beauchamp was pulled forward to the near post and big man Nikolai ‘Hyphen’ Topor-Stanley was dragged to the back post big man Zwaanswijk and McGlinchey exploited the gap to give the Wanderers a mountain to climb.
Bojic then handled the ball in his own area but Peter Green was ideally positioned to decide it wasn’t deliberate; clearly this was going to be OUR DAY.
Credit is due to the Wanderers; inspired by the lively Appiah-Kubi they controlled the opening fifteen minutes of the second half. They were determined and creative. They pressured the Mariners; this was their best period of the Final.
But the Mariners defence is every bit as good as the Wanderers. They scrambled well, defending in numbers with Sainsbury reading the moments of danger delightfully. The only save Ryan had to make was to turn an awkward cross over the bar.
It is at times like this that Graham ‘Arnie’ Arnold seeks to relieve the pressure by bringing on the human outboard motor Mitchell Duke for the veteran Sterjovski. Sterjovski though had other ideas, taking a long ball from Zwaanswijk, he turned it inside and hit a spectacular volley just over the bar. It was an indication of his old Socceroo class. It delayed the entry of Duke for ten minutes and in that time the Mariners claimed the Championship.
Tony Popovic played his ace, bringing on the perennial nuisance Labinot Haliti, but it was to have no impact as Sainsbury’s angled long ball was skilfully won by McBreen who fought for possession and when the ball bounced to hit Jerome Polenz’s arm the referee gave the penalty. This was OUR DAY!
McBreen’s spot kick was unstoppable, Covic outsmarted. With that kick McBreen slayed all the demons, removing the scar, as Arnie said afterwards, of the 2011 grand final defeat at Brisbane.
WSW ran out of puff, the Mariners eased toward the finish line. Nick Fitzgerald missed an opportunity to score a third, his header from Ibini’s cross not quite good enough to beat Covic.
The final whistle went and that sonic boom went around the world for the final glorious time.
McBreen deservedly got the Joe Marston Medal for best on ground with an aggressive and intelligent unremitting display but the immaculate Sainsbury must have run him close. Bojic, Rose, Zwaanswijk, Hutchinson, Bozanic, McGlinchey all stood up on the day and Sterjovski had his best game in Mariners’ colours.
Me? I am still dancing on the ceiling with my laptop.
*** Read more of Wiz’s pieces in the Wombles Downunder newsletter and on the WDSA web-site.