One would be forgiven that thinking the excitement surrounding the W-League grand final would be old hat for Melbourne City’s Steph Catley at this point.
Sunday’s decider against Sydney FC will be the third grand final on the trot for City’s captain; the 24-year-old left-back has already played a key role in City’s triumphs of 2015-16 and 2017-18.
Despite this, Catley said the different road City have taken to get to this year’s showpiece as opposed to previous campaigns, as well as some new companions on it, means the excitement is just as great as years gone by.
“Definitely the same excitement,” she said on Thursday.
“Every season’s so different.
“We’ve got such a different team from the first two years.
“Overcoming all the challenges to get to this point this year is just as special as the last two years, so the buzz is still the same.
“I think every single year until now has been such a different dynamic.
“The first year we were extraordinary, I’ve never been part of a team that’s just gelled so quickly and perfectly.
“The second year we had ups and downs, but we were still full of wonderful amazing players and I think it’s the same with this year.
“We’ve probably got a bit more experience this year, which holds us in good stead for the grand final.”
This season, City’s fourth-placed finish and a finals spot was not assured until the final round of the season – a 3-0 victory over Newcastle Jets put them out of reach of Canberra United – with City throughout the season turning in performances that belied the Monstar-like bevy of talent assembled in Bundoora.
This Jekyll and Hyde nature of City, stumbling into the finals only to sweep away all before them once they begin, almost exactly mirrors their 2016-17 campaign – in which they also finished fourth – and it is something that even Catley struggled to explain.
“It’s a bit strange that this season is panning out a little bit like last season,” she remarked.
“Last season I think was more down to the fact that we had such a disturbance during the year with different coaches and stuff like that, but this year has just been more of a drop in and out of form.
“I think we’ve played some really good football at times but haven’t been able to do it consistently.
“We’re really lucky that we’ve got the players that we do, the experience that we do and we kind of knew that at some stage we knew it was going to come together and click.
“With the season being so short you don’t really have a lot of time to gel, and with experienced players people are set in their ways and sometimes it takes a bit longer to work with each other and understand each other.
“Hopefully that’s what happened during the season and we’ve ironed all that out and we’ll be ready to go for the grand final.”
This season has also marked Paddy Kisnorbo’s first full season as the City Women’s head coach.
The Heart/City legend first came on board as an assistant to interim player-coach Jess Fishlock after the reshuffling that occurred in the City coaching ranks following the departure of John van ‘t Schip during the 2016-17 A-League season.
And Catley said the tone Kisnorbo has struck during his first full season in charge has been vital to City’s cohesion this season.
“It (Paddy’s coaching) has been great,” she said
“Him coming in when he did last year and doing what he did just gave us a taste of what he’s capable of.
“He’s a coach that knows exactly what he wants.
“He’s hard on us at training, but it’s a really good strictness level I suppose because we’ve got a lot of experience and a lot of different ideas and opinions and he’s very welcoming for that too.
“So we’re a well-oiled machine; everyone works well together and he’s a great person to have at the head of it.”