After eight seasons, 175 appearances, 120 goals and four Golden Boots, it feels like Jamie Maclaren has achieved just about everything there is to achieve in the A-Leagues.
His part in two successive Premiers Plate’s with City only adds to that feeling of total completion of all that the competition has to offer, yet there is one league prize that has alluded the 28-year-old. That being the A-League Championship, notably missing out on last years Grand Final win due to hotel quarantine following national team duty.
He arrived a year too late to catch Brisbane Roar’s final Championship of its early-2010s dynasty in 2014, and would have to wait until 2020 for his maiden Grand Final appearance.
That moment arrived in the red and white stripes donned by Melbourne City on the night that it faced Sydney FC in the showpiece event of the 2019/20 season.
Inseparable after 90 minutes, the deadlock between the teams was eventually broken in the 100th by Rhyan Grant, who scored a goal that City fans will reluctantly have trouble forgetting, try as they might.
Of course, a new season under the leadership of new Head Coach Patrick Kisnorbo brought with it renewed fortunes, including an inaugural A-League Premiership and a highly-anticipated rematch against Sydney FC in the Grand Final.
Whilst City would claim its maiden A-League Championship at the second time of asking, it certainly did so against the odds, missing the superstar trio of Maclaren, Curtis Good and Connor Metcalfe.
Though City’s #9 was able to share in the celebrations of what was a historic night for the club, there undoubtedly remains a Championship-shaped hole in Maclaren’s heart as he continues to build a case for being one of the A-League’s greats.
“Playing in a Grand Final is the biggest thing you can do in the A-League,” Maclaren said as he and his City teammates prepare to face Western United in the final game of another successful league season.
For that unfortunate Socceroo trio absent for City’s 2021 success, this weekend represents a worthy reward for their contributions to ensuring the team returns for a third consecutive Championship decider.
“You’ve worked so hard to reach the pinnacle, which is a Grand Final,” Maclaren said, “It will be something that we’ve earned throughout the whole year, us boys who missed out.”
Whilst a Grand Final win would evidently bring Maclaren’s A-League career full-circle, it would carry additional significance to the #9 and his teammates for a different reason. In securing both the A-League Premiership and Championship for the second year in a row, City would become the only team in the competition’s history to have achieved the monumental feat.
“It’s what we set out to do,” Maclaren said, “It’s our chance to stamp our authority as a football club.”
Looking ahead to the opposition that stands between him and a maiden A-League Championship trophy, Maclaren is all too familiar with Western United. City have faced its Grand Final opposition six times since day one of preseason.
This weekend’s showpiece event also appeals to Maclaren for another reason.
“It’s an all-Melbourne Final,” he began, “Being a proud Melbourne boy, it’s nice to see two quality Melbourne sides there.”
“Melbourne’s in a good place right now.”
In the previous matchups between City and United this season, the latter has proven its defensive rigidity – much to the frustration of City fans – shutting out 2021/22’s highest-scoring outfit in a pair of 1-0 wins before finally relenting in an enthralling 2-2 draw.
“They’re very structured at the back, very hard to break down,” Maclaren, “In the Grand Final, it’s just going to be all about taking our chances when they present themselves.”
“You’ve got to realise in some of these games, big moments are happening, and I believe that when a big moment does fall to me, I’ll be on my toes and ready for it.”
Maclaren now sits on 20 goals for Club and country in all competitions this season and there’s no doubt both he and City fans will be hoping to see that tally rise come Saturday night’s decider.
A-League Men: Grand Final
Melbourne City FC v Western United
Saturday 28 May, 7:45pm kick-off