The pain of Grand Final defeat is a feeling Western Sydney skipper Nikolai Topor-Stanley lives with every day and one that’s driving him in the Wanderers quest for a maiden title.
Topor-Stanley is one of three players – with Mark Bridge and Shannon Cole - in the current Wanderers squad that has endured the two grand final defeats in 2013 and ’14.
The 31-year-old was on the pitch at Allianz in their 2-0 defeat to Central Coast in 2013.
And the defender was forced off injured – with the Wanderers leading 1-0 late on – in the 2-1 extra-time loss to Brisbane Roar 12 months later.
It’s a feeling that still stings the defender and he’s desperate not to experience it for a third time on Sunday against Adelaide United in the Hyundai A-League Grand Final.
“I’ll carry that disappointment forever. You never get over that,” Topor-Stanley told reporters.
“You never know when your next grand final is going to be but lucky enough we have another opportunity on Sunday.
“Time's ticking for me especially,” he added.
“In four years of being here, you never know if I’ll get another opportunity at this club or even elsewhere.
“Whenever you get a chance to play and be crowned champion you really need to take that on.”
Last weekend, both the Wanderers and Reds were involved in thrilling and high-scoring semi-final wins, with 14 goals scored across the two matches.
But history suggests the Adelaide Oval decider will be much tighter, with only two goals scored in the three meetings between the two clubs this season.
“One thing I’ve learned is you never know what to expect and you just have to adapt with whatever is in front of you,” Topor-Stanley said.
“All I’m looking forward to doing is winning. Whether we win it 3-0 or 4-0, whether we win it 10-9 it doesn’t really matter to me.
“We’ve spoken all year that no matter what situation we’re given, whether it’s a referee’s decision, whether it’s the weather, it doesn’t matter.
“As long as there’s time on the board we’ve got a fighting chance, as long as we stick to the principles and that’s what we’ll take into this one…we’ve been working all year to be in this moment.”
The decider throws up some intriguing head-to-head match-ups but none is sure to be as fierce the battle between Wanderers striker Brendon Santalab and his ex-team-mate Iacopo La Rocca.
The pair are two of the more combustible players in the competition but have been integral to their side’s success this season.
Santalab has scored 11 goals for the season – including five in his last three starts – while La Rocca has been a rock in the heart of the Reds’ miserly defence alongside Dylan McGowan.
Nominally a midfielder during his time at Wanderland, Santalab admits he’s surprised La Rocca has dropped into a defensive role in Adelaide.
“He [La Rocca] didn’t enjoy [playing at the back] here. To see him playing there for Adelaide is a bit of a shock to me because I know he doesn’t enjoy playing there,” Santalab said.
“For me I need to take advantage of that and find out his weaknesses.
“He’s an aggressive player and one we worked very well together for a number of years here. It will be a great battle. He’s a fantastic defender and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”