A place on the national stage in the Australia Cup Round of 32 will be the prize for one of these two clubs come the conclusion of the Australia Cup Qualifying Final on Saturday evening and, whilst the Monaro Panthers will likely be the heavy favourites to obtain that prize, only a fool would write off the West Canberra Wanderers.
Indeed, the Wanderers may feel their name is on the trophy having edged past Canberra Croatia with a last minute free-kick in Round 4, snuck past CPL Tuggeranong United in extra-time after netting an equaliser deep into stoppage time in the Quarter Final, and survived two missed penalties from their opponents in the semi-final, the O’Connor Knights, before winning on penalties.
Sometimes it’s the combination of these little moments that come together to bring the most unlikely of cup stories to life and the Wanderers, headed by coaching duo Dom English and George Economopoulos, will be hoping this is the case in 2022.
Monaro Panthers have had a slightly more prosaic route to the big dance, forcing their way past stubborn CPL opposition in Wagga City Wanderers in their opener, before swatting aside ANU FC with a five-goal win in the Quarter Final. Their semi-final also went to a shoot-out, the Panthers seeing off Canberra Olympic in the nail-biting denouement.
League form often means nothing in the Cup but, for the record, the Wanderers only have one point to their name from seven matches this season, being rooted to the foot of the league table, whilst the Panthers are pushing at the other end, second with seventeen points, just behind table-topping Canberra Croatia.
As if to prove that positions can be deceptive, the league meeting between the pair at the Riverside Stadium was an arm-wrestle with the Panthers edging it by a solitary goal, scored from the penalty spot by Darren Bailey with only two minutes remaining.
Monaro may have won this trophy in a previous incarnation, as Inter Monaro back in the distant late-sixties and mid-seventies, but neither have lifted the cup in the modern era or represented the Capital in the national Round of 32.
Huge incentive then if any were needed, to claim the victory and with it, the glory. It’s the Cup Final. Expect the unexpected.
Australia Cup Qualifying Final
Monaro Panthers v West Canberra Wanderers
Saturday, June 4 (5:15pm KO)
Souvenir Match Program: $3