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Apr 22, 2022   |  6:00AM AET

Beyond Berisha – redefining the 2012 Grand Final

Beyond Berisha – redefining the 2012 Grand Final

22nd April 2012.

Suncorp Stadium.

A date and a location seared into the consciousness of any Glory fan of a certain age and in particular, those of us who were fortunate enough to be there in person.

Ten years to the day since the club’s hugely-controversial A-League Grand Final defeat at the hands of Brisbane Roar, the wounds from what unfolded on that sunny afternoon in Queensland remain raw.

But what compounds the pain is the fact that the circumstances surrounding Besart Berisha’s late penalty have all but obscured the other details of what was an incredible culmination to a truly extraordinary season.

While the Berisha narrative will never go away, viewing the 2011-12 campaign through that prism alone is to overlook a back story worthy of a Netflix mini-series.

Despair, ecstasy, redemption, heroes, villains and semi-nudity; it had it all.

Hopes had been raised among those of a purple persuasion when Ian Ferguson’s new-look Glory side rattled off three straight wins to start the campaign.

But that early-season optimism soon faded.

As spring gave way to summer, Glory’s outlook began to look decidedly wintry.

After Shane Smeltz’s first-half goal earned a narrow win over Wellington in Round 3, the men in purple managed to claim maximum points just once in their next ten games.

An away draw at Newcastle Jets on New Year’s Eve did little to ease the pressure on Ferguson or raise hopes among the fan base that 2012 would herald better times in the west.

It is, of course, too simplistic to identify one moment as the turning point in a season, but it is equally hard to deny the significance of Mile Sterjovski’s late goal in the club’s first game of the New Year.

Hosting a Brisbane side now widely acknowledged to have been one of the very best in A-League history, Glory sprang out to a shock, two-goal lead inside the opening half-hour as Travis Dodd and Sterjovski found the net.

But the visitors, predictably, roared back and when Mitch Nicholls grabbed his second of the game to give his side a 3-2 lead 20 minutes from time, the home faithful could have been forgiven for feeling resigned to their fate.

And yet it was not to be.

Sterjovski duly fired home from the spot to make it 3-3 and from that moment on, Glory were a team transformed.

From impressive away triumphs over Wellington, Melbourne Heart and Adelaide to two unforgettable home drubbings of Melbourne Victory and a similar demolition of Gold Coast United, the WA side spread its wings and took flight in spectacular fashion.

A third place finish ensured a first ever home A-League Final and Shane Smeltz helped himself to a hat-trick as Heart were almost contemptuously swatted aside.

That result teed up one of the most exciting A-League games in the club’s history, a 3-2 extra-time victory over Wellington Phoenix made all the more memorable by Todd Howarth’s wild, topless celebration of the winning goal.

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And so to what looked like a desperately difficult assignment; an away semi against a Central Coast Mariners side which had lost just six times en route to clinching the Premiership and beaten Glory twice during the regular season.

Graham Arnold’s men were red-hot favourites and the bookies looked to have called it right when Adam Kwasnik gave them the lead late in the first half.

Within a minute, however, Smeltz pounced to restore parity and when even 30 minutes of nerve-shredding extra-time failed to produce a winning goal, to penalties we went.

Each side successfully converted their first three, but after former Mariner Dean Heffernan made it 4-3 to Glory, Michael McGlinchey skied his effort over the bar.

That left Jacob Burns to take on future Premier League goalkeeper Mat Ryan knowing that a successful spot-kick would send his side to the Grand Final.

And despite having to spend what seemed like hours placing the ball correctly on the spot, the skipper showed nerves of steel to do exactly that.

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Within minutes of Burns’ strike rippling its way down the back of the net in Gosford, 3000 Glory fans were scrambling to organise their trip across the country in a mad, ‘planes, trains and automobiles-style dash.

Eight days later, Brisbane pubs were swathed in purple, Suncorp Stadium was bouncing and when Ivan Franjic put through his own net to hand Glory the lead seven minutes into the second half, the noise level from the travelling fans was such that you could have been forgiven for thinking that the game was being played at HBF Park.

We were daring to dream and we know now that those dreams were destined to be crushed.

But the the angst and the pain of the disastrous denouement which unfolded as the shadows lengthened across the Suncorp Stadium turf should not be allowed to define the event or the season that led up to it.

Instead, on this 10-year anniversary, perhaps we should seek solace in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s immortal line that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

Because, between the predatory instincts of Shane Smeltz, the fabulous link-up play of Travis Dodd, Steven McGarry and Billy Mehmet, the artistry of Liam Miller, the determination and grit of Steve Pantelidis, Bas van den Brink, Josh Risdon, Danny Vukovic and Jacob Burns and the incredible backing of the best supporters in the land, there was so much to love about that day and about that season.