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Casey Dumont's heart-and-soul performance carries Melbourne Victory to A-League Women glory

After an injury-ravaged career, Casey Dumont's resilience embodies everything about Melbourne Victory's remarkable championship win. (Getty Images: Matt Blyth)

Jellybeans. That was what won Melbourne Victory the 2021-22 A-League Women championship. 

Well, sort of.

It was what goalkeeper Casey Dumont turned to at half-time in Sunday afternoon's A-League Women grand final when she came into the change room feeling light-headed.

And who could blame her? She had just been buffeted by a Sydney FC storm, making four acrobatic saves to single-handedly keep her team in the contest.

Dumont suffered her fair share of knocks throughout Sunday's final, including a heavy clash (above) against Sydney FC defender Charlize Rule. (Getty Images: Tiffany Williams)

But not all was well. The veteran keeper felt her first wobble in the 30th minute after rushing out to smother a one-on-one chance with Princess Ibini.

Dumont realised something wasn't right and called out softly to the referee, but the chaos of the game carried her voice away into the humming Sydney crowd.

And so she stayed standing, pointing, watching, organising. She is not the kind of person to give up, especially not in moments like this. Not when she's needed most.

A few minutes passed. The buffeting continued. Sydney FC had the ball in the back of the net, but it was called back for offside.

Victory tried to counter, tried to find any weakness in this steely Sky Blues team, but they were swarmed and suffocated whenever they got close.

Dumont made another athletic save, diving backwards to slap a Mackenzie Hawkesby header over the crossbar.

Sydney's fans were in full voice, their energy spilling around the stadium, tightening the atmosphere.

It felt like only a matter of time before the Premiers' pressure paid off, before Victory finally cracked.

Mercifully, half-time arrived before they could. Dumont was the last to exit the pitch, walking gingerly across the turf, her face distant and pale.

And now she's here, in the dressing-rooms of Jubilee Stadium, her feet up against the wall, popping jellybeans into her mouth.

Somehow, despite the wobbles, she has kept the scores at 0-0.

It hasn't been pretty, but it has been necessary.

Premiers Sydney FC dominated the first half of the grand final, peppering Dumont's goal with over twice as many shots to Victory. (Getty Images: Pete Dovgan/Icon Sportswire)

That's what head coach Jeff Hopkins tells them as they pass around bottles of water, energy gels, handfuls of jellybeans.

"It's about character," he says. "It's about rolling up our sleeves, digging deep, and finding a way to win."

Dumont, her back against the concrete floor, knows better than most how to find a way. Her entire career has been about exactly that.

As one of the longest-serving players in the A-League Women, signing her first contract as a 15-year-old in the league's first season, Dumont's football journey has been peppered with the kinds of injuries that would end several players' careers.

Dumont's long career, which began under Hopkins' tenure at Queensland Roar in 2008, has been interrupted by multiple injuries. (Getty Images: Paul Kane)

In 2012, it was osteitis pubis, an inflammation in her pelvis and hip that saw her step away from the game to focus on her studies.

In 2013, it was a lacerated liver. In 2015, it was a tear to her left ACL. In 2020, she snapped her Achilles tendon.

Yet, somehow, Dumont survived. Again and again, she reached into that place — that deep well of resilience that we all have hidden somewhere, but which we can only access when we need it — and, through it all, found a way.

It's a trait that her Melbourne Victory teammates seem to have absorbed, by osmosis, this season.

After losing their captain, Kayla Morrison, to an ACL in the first game, Victory's campaign has been one of the most-disrupted of the lot.

COVID-19 swept through the squad mid-way through the season, bringing a number of players, including Dumont herself, to their knees with illness.

Captain Kayla Morrison's injury was the first of a series of setbacks that Melbourne Victory have had to overcome this season. (Getty Images: Robert Cianflone)

They lost three of their starting players to international duty in February and scrambled to plug the holes.

Pandemic postponements forced them to play seven games in less than a month. Amy Jackson tore her calf. By the end, they dragged their bruised, battered bodies into fourth spot by a whisker of goal difference.

Nobody expected them to make it to fourth, let alone to reach the grand final after grinding out a win over Adelaide United in the first round and sweeping past a mistake-riddled Melbourne City in the second.

Nobody, that is, except the players themselves.

After a season like theirs, giving up now was never an option. Only jellybeans.

"I had no doubt in my mind that I was coming [back] out," Dumont said afterwards. "I was never going to be subbed off.

"It's great to be part of any team, but … I don't know if I can explain it, unless you're actually there witnessing it with us. There's a big heart amongst that whole group.

Victory's camraderie has seen them weather the storm that is the 2021/22 A-League Women season. (Getty Images: Matt Blyth)

"Even when times were tough, you could tell we were down, but we still had — I call it 'mojo' — where you have a Maja [Markovski] or a [Melissa] Maizels just bringing that little spark, so that everyone laughs and lifts their spirits.

"It's the same with coming into finals. Yes, at the end of the season, we were like, 'It wasn't the best', but we knew the minute we'd qualified for finals that we'd have to step it up. And the thing is: We all knew that every single one of us could step up.

"And, I think, that's what helped bring that belief and [it] shows that it doesn't have to be pretty, but we sure as hell know how to perform and get that win."

And so, just as rumours swirled that Dumont would stay in the sheds, shell-shocked by that dizzying first half, there she was: back out on the pitch, ready to survive, to fight, to win.

They started the second half a harder, sharper, more confident team. Having suffered the slings and arrows of the opening stanza, they knew exactly what they needed to do. Their entire season has taught them how.

And they did it, twice: in the 49th and 64th minute.

As Hopkins said, it wasn't pretty — a scrappy sequence finding Amy Jackson at the back post, some poor defending seeing Catherine Zimmerman slam home at close range — but it was necessary.

Cortnee Vine clawed a goal back for Sydney shortly afterwards, but Victory weathered the storm, with the inexhaustible Dumont at the foundation of it all. The jellybeans worked.

And now she sits here, with two heavy medals clinking around her neck, beaming next to the man who had believed in her from the very start.

"I went up to Jeff [after full-time] and said, 'We started in 2008 together. We won the championship together. And now we've done it again today'," Dumont said, placing her hand on her chest.

"But not only that, last season [while injured] I was actually in this stand watching the girls. I took Jeff's wife's wristband to run onto the field and give him a hug. And, now, being able to stand next to him and win that back-to-back with him … He has as much faith in me as I have in him."

Casey Dumont got her start in the A-League Women under Jeff Hopkins in 2008. Over a decade later, they've won another championship together. (Getty Images: Matt Blyth)

Hopkins grins.

"One thing you know about Casey as well is when the chips are down, in the big games, she'll still perform," he said.

"Against adversity — she got smashed there in the second half — but I wasn't worried. I knew she'd get up and she'd go on. Which is kind of what she does. I've got a massive amount of respect for her as a player and [as] a person.

"We've had our ups and downs this season. The game was probably a little bit like that. It was a real tough game for us — it ebbed and flowed, we were under some unbelievable pressure at times — but the girls managed to do, like they've done all season, and come through it. We came out of those spells stronger."

Dumont's story, then, is not just a metaphor for Victory's remarkable season, overcoming every obstacle to reach the top of the mountain.

Dumont's own journey, like that of Melbourne Victory, has been a triumph of resilience over hardship. (Getty Images: Matt Blyth)

Her story also represents that of every player who has made this league and this game what it has become.

Despite everything the world has thrown at it — financial neglect, media invisibility, cultural apathy or outright hostility — Australian women's football has persevered, fuelled from within by passion, by belief, by togetherness, by joy. By jellybeans.

And so, as the lights of Jubilee Oval begin to darken, drawing this most difficult of seasons to a fairytale close, that is the last sound you can hear: A group of women footballers singing at the top of their lungs, their irrepressible voices echoing out long into the night.

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