Kieran Yap analyzes yesterday’s A-League Women Grand Final and the influential role that Amy Jackson has on her Melbourne Victory team (28/3/22).
Above: Melbourne Victory celebrate after winning the A-League Women Grand Final. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus.
There are some things that are more noticeable when you watch Melbourne Victory up close. The way that Casey Dumont commands her area and positions herself before any danger arrives, the moments Alex Chidiac throws in little stepovers and shimmies to make fractions more time, and the influence that Amy Jackson has on the team.
The Victory active support have a song dedicated to Jackson. Sung to the tune of Dolly Parton’s “Joeline” the faithful have anointed her as “The heart of the team.” When she scored the opening goal in the Grand Final against Sydney FC they looked like they celebrated just that little bit harder because it was her.
Amy Jackson has been essential to the last two championship-winning sides. She was not a starter last season but stepped in when Nat Tatham was injured in round one. The Victory midfield required no adjustment. She kept the side functioning with minimal fuss but maximum class.
This season has seen slightly more fuss. Few players have had a more dramatic campaign than Amy Jackson. When Kayla Morrison succumbed to a knee injury in round one, Jackson, the veteran midfielder, had to drop back into defence.
It was not her favoured role and one she took some time to adjust to. Melbourne City tried to exploit that in the first derby of the year. Long balls over the top to Hannah Wilkinson caused instant problems for the makeshift defence. Jackson looked uncomfortable faced with what would turn into an elite strike force.
However, with Victory 2-1 and City with the momentum, she slid desperately to stop Holly McNamara as the young star was goal bound.
Jackson received a red card but had rescued the win. It turned out to be a crucial three points for Victory in a season where every result, every contest counted on the road to another trophy.
Jeff Hopkins was in no hurry to sign any centre-back. He waited until the right one became available. Brooke Hendrix was a godsend and for one glorious half against Western Sydney, Jackson was released into her natural midfield habitat.
She looked re-energized and unshackled as Victory galloped to a 5-0 win in a commanding performance. Jackson’s presence freed up Kyra Cooney-Cross to have her most dominant match of the season.
That was not to last, but it was a taste of what Victory’s best football looked like. A few days later, Victory faced Sydney FC, and Jackson was shifted back to defence with Claudia Bunge called up to the Football Ferns.
Victory escaped with a late draw in the 2-2 contest. But Jackson injured her calf muscle, a symptom of the unforgiving schedule perhaps.
Victory made it to the finals on goal difference. It was four winless games without Amy Jackson on the field.
When she returned, it was to complete a full-strength Victory side. Hendrix and Bunge were in defence, Jackson was back where she does her best work, as a central midfielder. Against Adelaide United in the elimination final, she screened the back four and kept the ball moving.
In the preliminary final against Melbourne City, she was again excellent as Victory cruised to a 3-1 against a side that beat them 5-1 earlier in the season.
In the final, she scored the first goal to set Victory on their way to a second consecutive championship. Her season was one of compromise, suspension, injury, and recovery. But on the big day, she was able to seize the moment.
There are no passengers in a championship-winning squad, but Jackson this season has been a midfielder, a defender, and finally a goal scorer for her club. Few players have been more instrumental or selfless.
Jackson’s presence could have benefits in years to come, the mentorship of Victory’s young midfielders like Alana Murphy will certainly pay dividends for Jeff Hopkins. He has the master and the apprentice in the line-up.
Football chants are hyperbolic by nature, but in this case, it could not be more fitting. Amy Jackson is the heart of the team.