The Big Dance. The Showdown. The Grand Final. It’s one of the major days of the football calendar and for one of either Canberra Croatia or Monaro Panthers, will signify an ultimately triumphant conclusion to the epic narrative of the 2022 National Premier League campaign.
For the League Champions, Croatia, it’s their 31st attempt at a Grand Final in Capital Football history. In more modern times, it’s their seventh since the formation of the NPL in 2013. And yet their record in that time makes for reasonably grim reading. Only two of the previous half-a-dozen visits have provided success.
There’s genuine optimism of course, and why wouldn’t there be, that this season will be different. A team that is in all essences, a team. A collective that is the equal to, if not better than, the sum of its individual parts. A defensive that is hard to breach. A creative and combative midfield, and an attack which features goals, goals, and more goals.
Monaro Panthers return to the top stage for the first time since 1999 and their memorable 1-0 victory over Capital City Suns. That result was the second time that the team based in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, had been crowned Grand Final winners, a trio of wins would ice a very fine 2022 cake.
Charity Shield success was followed by an Australia Cup Qualifying triumph and now this. A shot at the big one against a League Champion side that has been their match during the current festivities, albeit by the finest of margins.
A narrow win for Croatia at the Riverside has sandwiched two draws, a goalless stalemate at the home of the Panthers and a livelier four-goal thriller at Deakin Stadium. More of the same would be much appreciated by the neutrals who clamoured for the endless, all-action classic that was served up.
The Panthers have been efficient in recent weeks. Scoring at critical times, and defending well, with goalkeeper Jordan Thurtell in, arguably, some of his career best form in denying Gungahlin United in last weekend’s two-goal win at this same venue, a Preliminary Final victory that ended the Gunners campaign.
Canberra Croatia will be favourites, of that there is little doubt. They have the home advantage, one given to them by the magnificence of Deakin Stadium, the pre-eminent venue for big-matches in the National Capital, and their League Championship title. They also have the experience across the park and the nous of their coaching team led by Dean Ugrinic.
For Frank Cachia, the Panthers Head Coach, it will be his last foray in the Monaro dugout, he’s handing the reigns over to Assistant Ian Worthington for 2023. His team would love to help him leave on a high. To do so they’ll need to unlock the Champions door. Find the key and glory could be theirs. In either case, prepare for a modern-day classic.
National Premier League Grand Final
Saturday 1 October 2022
Canberra Croatia v Monaro Panthers
(Deakin Stadium, 18:00)