Victory rises to the challenge again to deliver Championship

Set this Melbourne Victory a challenge in the Liberty A-League, and it will rise to it.

For the second straight year, Jeff Hopkins’ side went to Jubilee Stadium as the underdog and beat Sydney FC to win the Championship.

Victory became the second team in Liberty A-League history to win back-to-back Championships, completing yet another memorable campaign with silverware.

If last season looked hard – winning finals in Brisbane and then Sydney – then 2021/22 was an even bigger ask of Hopkins’ team.

The campaign looked to have started like a dream. Victory led Adelaide United, which would reach the Finals Series, comfortably at AAMI Park when the game turned sour. Kayla Morrison, the captain and last season’s Victory Medal winner, suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Victory was already without last campaign’s top goalscorer Melina Ayres, who would miss almost the entire regular season due to injury.

The coronavirus pandemic meant Victory played just two matches in January, and what would follow was one of the most gruelling schedules in the competition.

Victory played seven matches – half the regular season – in 23 days. It was little wonder a tiring Victory only just reached the Finals Series with a draw against Canberra United.

Last season, Victory had nine players feature in all 14 games. This season, that number was one – Polly Doran making 17 appearances.

But Victory knew what it was capable of, and it was better than the five-game winless run it went on to finish the regular season.

Just weeks after losing 3-0 in Adelaide, Victory returned to Coopers Stadium to eliminate the Reds. And, Ayres was central to it in her first start of the season, scoring the winner.

Victory truly showed what it could do in a Derby Preliminary Final against City. Ayres and Lia Privitelli were on the scoresheet either side of Claudia Bunge’s goal, but in truth the win should have been far more comfortable than the 3-1 scoreline.

So the scene was set in Sydney again. This decider played out in stark contrast to last season’s, when Victory dominated and Jada Whyman was player of the match. On Sunday, it was Casey Dumont, returning from injury this season and producing a standout performance. With Amy Jackson and Catherine Zimmerman on the scoresheet, Victory did enough.

It may not have been the last minute of extra-time via an ‘Olimpico’, but again it took bravery and commitment, and Victory delivered.