It's not the same feeling as it was after the 6-0 drubbing two years ago, though - that was completely shattering. That day Adelaide were outplayed by a witheringly effective Melbourne, and the team fell apart in dramatic fashion on the pitch (and off the pitch, after the match). There was nothing positive to come out of that performance, no redeeming qualities at all. Just pain for the supporters.
This time around, the bitterness is tinged with some more positive emotions. Adelaide can take a lot out of the narrow loss, which, any other day, might have panned out very differently.
As I'm sure everyone is by now very well aware, this grand final was dominated by the decisions of the referee, a certain Mr M. Breeze. He sent off two players unfairly, was unable to keep control of the heightened tensions of such an important match, and let players, the crowd and the gravity of the occasion get to him.
I was going to go off on an abusive rant against Breeze but everything that needs to be said about his performance has already been covered by commentators that are more neutral in their allegiances than me (see: Fox Sports commentary team, The World Game panelists on SBS, ABC's Offsiders, and any number of print & internet journos) - the general consensus is that he stuffed up big time.
The first of his errors, and the one with the greatest bearing on the match, was the send off of Cristiano after ten minutes for a stray elbow that connected with Roddy Vargas' head. The two players went up for a header, both had eyes on the ball and arms raised, Vargas ended up on the ground with blood covering his face. Breeze's first instinct was to give a yellow; Kevin Muscat got in his ear, he saw the blood, he went to confer with the linesman, he produced a red card.
It was not a reckless challenge, the elbow wasn't swung at his opponent - in leaping for the ball it was a completely natural movement. Vargas was unlucky that he got a nasty bump out of it - a referee with more common sense may have just taken Cristiano aside and warned him to be more careful. But no - straight red.
Needless to say, Adelaide were disadvantaged from that point on. The Reds had Melbourne on the back foot in the first ten minutes, but once they were a man down it was largely backs to the wall for the rest of the first half.
After the break, Vidmar reshuffled his team to try to regain some impetus, with Jamieson playing a more advanced role in midfield. Lacking a true striker in the absence of Cristiano, Pantelis and Dodd sat higher up the park. Salley, Reid and Barbiero worked well together, nullifying Melbourne's midfield and creating attacking opportunities for the Reds.
Even a man down, Adelaide began to take control of the game, and had several good chances - the most memorable being a shot in the box from Jamieson, kept out miraculously by Theoklitos' foot (I'm not sure he knew too much about it), and a jinking run by Travis Dodd, who beat a number of defenders before firing straight at the keeper.
Then, almost inevitably, Melbourne scored. Pondeljak took the ball outside the box, at a diagonal angle from goals, and swung his foot at it. Somehow avoiding a sea of legs in the penalty box, the ball made its way into the bottom corner of the net. Galekovic, who may have been unsighted until very late, could do little but watch it as it crossed the line. The massive crowd of over 53,000 at the Dome went wild. A goal and a man up, the result looked to be in the bag.
There was only one thing missing from the second half: our good friend Matthew Breeze. Just as it looked like the football was going to steal the show, the man with the whistle decided to force his way back into the limelight. A melee in the penalty box - the usual big-game argy-bargy - descended into high farce as Breeze picked out Danny Allsopp and sent him off. The crime? Who knows. Apparently there was an alleged headbutt on Cornthwaite - it doesn't look like much at all on any replay, but once again players got in Breeze's ear and he produced a red card. Currently, the Victory are quite rightly appealing this decision.
If it was a square-up for the unfair dismissal of Cristiano, it was sixty minutes too late. The damage had already been done. With the sides at ten men each Adelaide once again had all the attacking play, but at a goal up Melbourne could afford to sit deep and defend (oh, but I thought it was only Adelaide who tried to close down a 1-0 lead?????)
After all the stoppages of play in the second half, numerous substitutions, and the fracas that saw Allsopp take an early shower, there should probably have been five minutes of time added on at the end of the half. But no - only three minutes. During injury time, Berger took a nasty knock and required attention on the pitch, all of which chewed up another couple of minutes. Did the ref add these on at the end? No, he did not. At the stroke of 93 minutes - as Celeski committed an awful foul on an Adelaide player (Barbiero?) just outside the box, right in front of Breeze - see the second video at the 9 minute mark - the clown blew full time. Melbourne Victory, 08-09 champions, blah blah blah.
Well done to them, they seized their opportunity. Unfortunately for Melbourne fans, the win is somewhat tainted - the refereeing robbed them of the ability to say that they won this championship fair and square. There will always be a question mark. For this reason, I think the Melbourne fans have every right to be as angry at Breeze's performance as Adelaide fans.
This is what I'm talking about when I say that Adelaide's loss is one of mixed emotions. As Adelaide fans, we can be extremely proud of the way the Reds played and kept fighting, against a team that has had the wood on us all season, even when unfairly disadvantaged due to poor officiating. We can take heart in the fact that, when the team numbers were even, Adelaide had the run of play. Who knows what would have happened if the game took place on a level playing field. Losing the way we did, we can quite rightly feel that the game may have gone the other way had Cristiano stayed on the pitch.
Anyway, what's done is done, Adelaide have just finished their most successful season ever. I could not be more proud to be a pissant. Next season, after all the dramas of off-season recruitment are out of the way, we will have a real chance to go one better. And, immediately after that, another Champions League campaign. As long as we can look forward with hope and optimism, we're in a good place.
Shalom, noble Ants.
The first half.
The second half. Youtubes courtesy as always of JayFCAK47.