The A-League Women grand final between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory will feature some of the nation’s best individual players. But the fate of this finals series has largely been determined by the feats of two individuals. Cortnee Vine and Melina Ayres. Kick360 takes a look at what each of them has achieved and what they can bring to the big game.
If the semi final between Sydney FC and Melbourne City was the first time that you ever saw Cortnee Vine play, you might think that was the norm. And you would be right.
The PFA team of the season captain and newly capped Matilda has been a consistent and often spectacular game breaker for Sydney FC over the last two A-League Women’s seasons.
Vine is the type of player that fans tune in or tun up to watch. She is an electric, inventive winger with an eye for goal. Her double in the semi final brought up her 11th and 12th goals for the club since joining from the Newcastle Jets.
In the 2021/22 season, Vine has scored eight goals and made two assists in just 11 games. In full flight, she looks a class above everybody else on the pitch.
The Sydney FC winger combines explosive pace with good close control. She is an excellent decision maker in the final third. Her skills on the ball give her the time and space to pick the best option, whether that be a cross, shot or a shot from an area most are expecting a cross.
Vine has scored some incredible goals in her career but the one that best sums her up as a player came against Wellington Phoenix in December.
After receiving the ball wide, Vine easily burst past the fullback. As Wellington’s defenders scrambled to cover the space in the middle, Remy Siemsen and Sarah Hunter peeled into open space in front of goal.
Phoenix goalkeeper, Lily Alfeld was well positioned at the near post and the goalmouth became crowded. The defence had done everything correct to limit her options. But at this point of her career, “limits” are just a suggestion to Vine.
The textbook and high percentage play would have been to cut it back for a simple tap in for Siemsen or Hunter. Vine used the outside of her right foot to gently curl the ball through the narrowest gap and into the net.
It was a goal of pure skill, confidence and artistry.
Put simply, Cortnee Vine is unstoppable when in fully fit and in form. Sydney FC’s true strength as a side lies in their depth. While she was away at the Asian Cup, Paige Satchell was a more than capable replacement.
However, in Vine they have the leagues most damaging attacker and due to that depth, one that is often left one on one. Melbourne Victory can shift more player to reduce her impact, but that just frees up Princess Ibini, Siemsen, or Mackenzie Hawkesby to test the keeper.
If they force her inboard and onto her left foot, Charlize Rule is likely to overlap on the right. Her cross set up Siemsen to score against Victory in the previous 2-2 draw between the sides.
Vine puts defences in a conundrum. If too much focus is put on her, Sydney win, If you leave her with one opponent, she will eventually get the better of them.
Crucially, she missed last season’s finals through injury, with her in the side the equation has changed for the Grand Final replay.
She is an outstanding footballer. A rare player who is as exciting on the stats sheet as she is on a highlights reel. Cortnee Vine has already decided one final, and many games throughout the season. One more is very likely.
As far as football narratives go, Melina Ayres could provide one of the best yet of the A-League Women season.
The Melbourne Victory striker burst onto the scene in 2018 with some spectacular long range strikes. At the age of 18, she established a reputation as a scorer of great goals, if not yet as a great goal scorer.
Her early seasons at Victory were during a time when they club’s attack was dominated by Emily Gielnik or club legend Natasha Dowie.
It was not unreasonable for the clubs fans to depend on Dowie. She was able to score goals out of almost nothing. A long ball into the box could easily result in a volley past the keeper. The English striker was deadly and dependable as her 31 goals in 48 games across two stints attests.
When Dowie departed for AC Milan, the question became who could replace her? Jeff Hopkins had the answer and he did not need to look very far.
Ayres was ready to step up as the teams centre forward and focal point in attack. Encouraged by a three season deal and flanked by Catherine Zimmerman and Lisa De Vanna, she flourished in Victory’s 2020/21 season.
Ayres’ form has always been impressive at NPL level with South Melbourne. Once entrusted with the responsibility by Hopkins she excelled. Her performances and match involvement built throughout the season and reached an amazing crescendo with a semi-final hattrick against Brisbane Roar.
Since the Grand Final success. Ayres has had mixed fortune. She was once again dominant in the NPLW, but the September cancellation of the season mean that Ayres like many others had their form and careers paused through Covid lockdowns.
A persistent hamstring injury and related complications meant that she play another game until Victory met Canberra United on the final round of the season.
In her absence, Victory sometimes struggled to finish off much of their build up play. The creativity provided by Kyra Cooney-Cross, Alex Chidiac and Lia Privitelli was unrewarded without Ayres’ cutting edge in attack.
She arrived back in the starting line up just in time. Two well-taken goals in Victory’s two finals has restored confidence to the attack. It has brought the best out of Zimmerman and boosted morale around the supporters.
Her goal against Adelaide United decided the game. She timed her run perfectly to meet Privitelli’s cross and finish with a low volley. Against Melbourne City, she robbed Emma Checker of possession and beat Sally James with a nice left footed strike.
Ayres is a striker who does not need to play on the shoulder of the last defender. She does not need to outpace the backline, her technique and instinct makes her dangerous from the edge of the penalty area.
Ayres loves a tackle and excels in a physical battle. She can link play, and hold up the ball. She can be as accurate from 30 yards as she is from 10 and can change games in an instant.
Can she score for a third week in a row and decide a third final this season? She certainly has the potential to and is in terrific form.
After an entire season injured, it would be a cinematic end to Victory’s season if she does so. And one of the footballing stories of the year.