Eighteen-year club stalwart Franco Parisi hailed APIA Leichhardt Tigers' heroic FFA Cup triumph over Hyundai A-League Champions Melbourne Victory as the greatest moment in his time at the club.
The Tigers threatened to upset the odds when Tasuku Sekiya’s double shocked the Hyundai A-League giants and gave the home side a dramatic two-goal lead.
Kenny Athiu hit back with two goals to level the scores, but Nathan Millgate’s towering 80th minute header sparked euphoria at Leichhardt Oval as APIA clinched a momentous 3-2 victory.
Veteran midfielder Parisi produced a masterful display to help the Tigers control their emotions and, in his 18th year at the club and his 12th senior campaign, the 35-year-old has no doubt this moment ranks above the rest.
“For this club, absolutely,” Parisi said.
“It sunk in quite immediately for us. The moment was so big – the goosebumps and then the celebrations, and then it’s just enjoying the moment and reliving key instances within the game.”
“It’s something we really wanted, something we deserved.”
Parisi spent six years with the Sydney inner-west outfit as a junior, and returned in 2007, where he has since become part of the life-blood of the club.
He admits it took four or five hours to finally get to sleep after an evening that will live long in the memory. One that was capped off with a historic goal that writes Millgate’s name into APIA folklore.
“That was a moment to savour for all, the way it happened and the timing of it,” Parisi recalls.
“That was just a sucker blow for Victory, who thought they were well in the match.
“Millgate is one of our most solid performers and one of our hardest working guys out there, to rise above to the rest and put a header in the top corner. Then it was a matter of discipline and energy to hold out the game.”
Belief in themselves
Although the result was a shock to many, Parisi and his teammates always had the belief they could cause Kevin Muscat’s team problems.
Billy McColl’s team have a well-structured defensive set up and a natural goal-threat in Sekiya. Parisi had faith the Japanese attacker could prove to be the thorn in Victory’s side playing without Sekiya's compatriot Keisuke Honda.
“[Sekiya's] finishing is fantastic,” said Parisi. “For it to start within the first 10 minutes really set the tone, so it was a big step up for him. A big match needs big moments and we delivered three of those.
“We knew we could perform in an attacking sense and be disciplined in defence. To win the game, we weren’t overly confident of that but we knew we were good for goals.”
Seeing a two-goal lead slip away against such a professional outfit was always going to be a test of the NPL NSW side’s mentality. It seemed like the momentum had turned when Athiu struck in the 60th and 66th minutes.
“Speaking personally, there was a quick moment where it was ‘we need to lift’ again and then we rallied around the boys,” Parisi added.
“Within a couple of minutes, we’d lifted again”
“It almost felt like the game had started again at 0-0 so credit to the boys and the leaders within the team.
“We could have gone into our shells, we could have been deflated by two quick responsive goals from Melbourne in the middle of the second half. But we got ourselves back into the game, and got on top of possession again.”
Recovering from league struggles
After battling it out with Sydney Olympic all season in a race to become NPL NSW Premiers, APIA lost ground following the departure of goal-scoring record-breaker Jordan Murray to the Central Coast Mariners.
Heading into the final day of the season, the Tigers led Olympic on goal difference but the title slipped out of their grasp after a 2-1 final day defeat to Hakoah Sydney City East.
APIA followed that up with a penalty shootout loss against 10-man Sydney United 58 in the first week of finals football. That was 120 gruelling minutes of football only 72 hours before they came face-to-face with Victory.
“It’s the sign of a massive character within the team to bounce back after the past two weeks that we’ve had,” Parisi said.
“It was the same team, the same players who were out there again. It’s a massive credit to us mentally, but also physically to back up against a more professional set up.”
After advancing to the quarter finals in such heroic fashion, the Tigers have every right to believe they are indestructible. Parisi is hesitant to say APIA can lift the FFA Cup – but it’s clear they fear nobody.
“They were the A-League champions, so it doesn’t get higher than that!” he said.
“We have confidence in ourselves that we will score goals, we will be disciplined, we will work hard, we will match you physically, and give ourselves every chance to win any game we play.
“We will have that confidence about ourselves but we won’t say – we beat Melbourne Victory, we can beat anyone.”