Nine years after Parramatta Power lost the last NSL grand final, west Sydney is back in a title decider and former Power coach Nick Theodorakopoulos isn't surprised.
Parramatta Power's Michael Beauchamp battles with Perth Glory's Bobby Despotovski.
It-s been a long time between drinks for western Sydney football. The last time they had a representative in a grand final, Parramatta Power lost a disappointing decider to Perth Glory in the final season of the NSL.
Nine years later and the next elite team to come out of the region have earned their place in the season-decider with their first shot. It-s not a bad strike rate. And former Power coach Nick Theodorakopoulos says he-s not remotely surprised.
“It-s interesting that probably the best region for football in the country has had grand finals in the last two attempts,” Theodorakopoulos says.
“To see the crowds flock to the stadium, that doesn-t surprise me and that-s been a big part of the success, especially knowing they have such strong support in such a small amount of time.
“I-ve had a common belief for years that the best sporting franchise our country has is a west Sydney football team - and that encompasses rugby union, league, AFL and basketball - and it-s proven it again. In the not too far distant future I think you-ll be seeing the three games between Western Sydney and Sydney FC playing out of the Olympic stadium.”
The dying days of the NSL were hard on all clubs, particularly the Power, after then-CEO Dennis Fitzgerald called time on the club-s existence long before the end of the season. The fans deserted the team as the competition drew to a close, despite the grand final.
But the fire still burned and despite the gap between seasons, there are still strong links between the Power and the Wanderers, not least with former Power players such as Ante Milicic - now the Wanderers assistant coach - and Michael Beauchamp and Mark Bridge ready to lead the region to a new era.
Thankfully, the problems the Power experienced haven-t been passed on, while the expertise and passion have. And the Wanderers are reaping the benefits.
“If you go back in the previous competition you-ll find the crowds not being there was a major hindrance to clubs- success on and off the park, which is why we got to the point where the competition couldn-t continue,” Theodorakopoulos says.
“The Power was incredibly well organised. The club was run magnificently - I think it just had to do with the non-fashionable league. It was coming to an end; Dennis had stated publicly that the Power would not continue in any way, shape or form and that would hurt any support base.
"In saying that, there were a lot of things the current club can take out of Parramatta Power, one was the administration and the organisation.
“But to have both Tony (Popovic) and Ante to succeed in such a small amount of time is nothing short of phenomenal. And that shows they are completely in charge; when there-s trust in the coaching staff a lot of the other work in and around the team becomes easier and that-s evident that there are quality people and you can see it on the pitch.
“One thing that does stand out is the quality of players that are produced from that area and Mark Bridge comes to mind straight away; he was at the club for that 2004 grand final. His ability was always there; he-s come home to the region so he feels more comfortable and he-s got two coaches that have shown him the right way.”
Theodorakopoulos admits his memories of the Power-s last game aren-t great - losing to a lone “golden goal” is never going to be an easy result to swallow - but says ultimately the Wanderers performance this weekend won-t matter. History doesn-t take any notice. For Tony Popovic and the fans, all the counts is the result.
“My memories of the grand final… Ah, not good (laughs). I think it was the last year of golden goal as well and that finished with a golden goal with Nik Mrdja. The match itself wasn-t the highlight, unlike what happened a few years before with Wollongong.
“But I don-t think Popa will mind how the side plays if he gets the result for his team and supporters, because grand finals are remembers by who won, rather than the scoreline.”
That would usually be the case - with any other team. But this hasn-t been a normal season. Whatever the result on Sunday afternoon, western Sydney can be rightly proud of their new team-s achievements. Of course they-re desperate to win - but, by any measures, the region-s return to football community can only be called a roaring success.