HOW much is Dwight Yorke worth? He's worth a championship for Sydney FC, and how do you put a value on that?
The A-League's biggest, best-paid, and most famous star didn't shine his light from start to finish in yesterday's inaugural grand final. In fact, for much of the first half, he played his match in the shadows of the main game. Slow, lethargic, leg-heaving, and guilty of basic, unforced mistakes. He may be good but he's not Superman. And the toll of travelling halfway across the world and back again was evident. After all, he turned 35 on Friday, the day of his return from London.
But if jet lag diminished Yorke's contribution in the opening 45 minutes, his pride, and his quality, came to the fore when it mattered. For a 20-minute period after the break, Yorke dug deep, got the ball and used it. When he plays well, Sydney FC look like a good team. And when the title was there to be won, Sydney were a better team than their courageous opponents, Central Coast Mariners. Because of Yorke.
It was Yorke who gave Sydney back their self-belief. It was Yorke, who brought the likes of David Carney and Sasho Petrovski back into the game. And it was Yorke who held up the ball for the perfect moment, and released the pass which gave Steve Corica the opportunity to score the only goal of the grand final, the goal which made Sydney FC the champions of Australia.
So is Yorke worth what the club is playing him? Right now, he's worth every cent. Big games are often decided by big players, and in this league, Yorke is the biggest of the lot.
And didn't Sydney need him. If the biggest club in the country is now the best, spare a thought for the beaten Mariners. They were every bit as good as their opponents for most of the game. In fact, they were clearly the dominant force of the first half. But the half-time statistics told their own story: 17 shots, only one on goal. The wasted opportunities threatened to come back to haunt them, and they did. Sydney were let off the hook.
Perhaps, though, the pattern of the opening half was not such a surprise. The Mariners took an unchanged side, and a 12-game unbeaten run into the match. They were settled and confident. Sydney, by contrast, made three changes, only one of them forced. Coach Pierre Littbarski gambled on two players who in recent weeks haven't played much football - Jacob Timpano and Terry McFlynn. The former had been expected to start, but the latter's inclusion was a major surprise. It was always going to take time for Sydney to find their rhythm but they got lucky. While they were there for the taking, the Mariners couldn't apply the finishing touch. And having weathered the storm, Sydney made the most of their reprieve.
Yorke pushed further forward to provide support and service to Petrovski, and Corica and Carney were able to get possession higher up the park. The flip side was that Central Coast's wide men, Dean Heffernan and Wayne O'Sullivan, had their ears pinned back. Suddenly, Mariners strikers Tom Pondeljak and Stewart Petrie found themselves starved out of the game. Central Coast's most important asset - their width - was curtailed. The pendulum had swung back in favour of the sky blue.
No one can dispute the merits of Sydney's victory. Living with pressure and expectation comes at a cost. But beneath the veneer beats the heart of a star team, not a team of stars. This was the moment when Sydney could prove they were worth the hype. Only the players could deliver that. And they did.
For all that, there wasn't much in it. Central Coast lost but they lost few friends. Yorke was magnanimous enough to admit afterwards that if the Mariners had taken their chances, it might have been a different result. On the balance of play, Central Coast were the equal of their opponents. But Sydney have the trophy, and the Mariners are left to dream.
There will be celebrations and commiserations. But what ultimately counts is that first-ever A-League grand final left those inside the stadium, and those in their lounge rooms, wanting more. The public will be hungry because the players left a good taste in their mouth. There may have been only the single goal, but this showpiece was a credit to the league. Yorke has walked some of the biggest stages in football but when he walked up to receive his Marston Medal for the best player of the game, he looked as excited as a teenager. Winning never loses its lustre.