Victory star proves easy choice for top award
GOALKEEPER Lawrence Thomas admitted he was inspired to atone for last season's gut-wrenching grand final loss, as he produced another heroic performance for Melbourne Victory.
Proud coach Kevin Muscat and captain Carl Valeri, both of whom drew the ire of frustrated Victory fans three months ago, hailed the team's recovery from "tough times".
Thomas became just the second shot-stopper to win the Joe Marston medal as man of the match after Mat Ryan's effort in 2010-11, without his mentor.
Goalkeeper coach Dean Anastasiadis watched on from the stands alongside assistant coach Jean-Paul de Marigny due to suspension, leaving back-up keeper Matt Acton and third keeper Matthew Sutton to warm him up.
"I would've like to have had him (Anastasiadis) there, he's been there over the journey. But my routine doesn't change, it was business as usual,'' Thomas said.
"I don't know what to say, it's incredible. It's been a rollercoaster year, up and down. And then that performance, there was a lot of grit.
"We didn't play good football on the night, but a win's a win. I just tried to stay in the game, and like last week stay in the moment.
"I'm not gonna lie, it (last year's grand final loss) was in the back of my mind. Them pinching one like last week. But the boys were incredible. Defensively we were outstanding, ridiculous.
"Tommy Deng and Donks (James Donachie) in particular were rock solid."
Muscat said his players deserve praise after overcoming international overlap and mid-season exits to claim a fourth A-League crown.
"The mount of obstacles we had to overcome is phenomenal. Its not been highlighted enough because I don't bring them up, perceived as excuses,'' Muscat said.
"To come from fourth, an away grand final, the way we've stared down the hurdles, I can't speak highly enough of the players."
Valeri said the group's resilience was pivotal, after an arduous season.
"It's very special. Especially because we went through a lot of tough times, to see how the group held strong, it's amazing and a credit to the boys. It sums us up pretty much,'' Valeri said.
"We just stuck together we had a strong belief in ourselves. We hung in when we were lows and we remained humble during the highs. That's what's got us through."