Wollongong United captain Danny Lazarevski admits that missing out on this year's Illawarra Premier League premiers trophy has fueled his team's desire to win the 2020 premiership.
United had led the IPL heading into the final round of the season, but a 3-2 loss to Coniston saw Woonona leap-frog them on the ladder and win the title.
On Sunday, United were able to extract some revenge with a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Sharks at Macedonia Park. Zac McLaren's goal in the 89th minute proved the difference, with United advancing straight to this year's grand final.
Lazarevski told the Mercury that there was "a lot of relief" when McLaren mustered the late match-winner.
"It was a bit frustrating because we were creating chances, but we just couldn't finish," he said.
"I think they were looking to sit back and get that one goal on the counter and sit it out, but luckily we got that goal through Zac McLaren. There was a lot of relief when that hit the back of the net. But I think it was well deserved and the boys deserve to be in the grand final.
"I think we got a bit unlucky with not taking out the minor premiership which we were disgusted with. But it's just made us want to work a bit more to win this grand final. And for all three grades to get into it, it's a fantastic day for the club and we'll all work towards winning that final."
United coach Oli Vrtkovski was pleased to get the win and praised the Sharks for their performance.
"They deserve to be here and hopefully we meet them again in the grand final because I think it was entertaining for the fans and they play good football, and they grind out results," he said.
"They're very well structured but I think we had the better of the chances in the first half, and couldn't punish. The second half, we pushed and pushed, and did really well. And I think we defended our 18-yard box really well.
"It was a relief [when McLaren scored the winner] because this could have gone to penalties quite easily."
Players were greeted by cold and drizzly conditions on Sunday afternoon.
United got the first chance early through a Ben Brooks header, however the ball was well gloved by Jair Fernandez.
Brooks again looked dangerous soon after, but his header was just wide of the goal posts.
United continued to be the more aggressive side in the opening 10 minutes. Jeremy Flanagan made a nice break down the wing, before his cross was stopped by the Sharks.
Approaching the 15-minute mark, the rain really started to tumble down.
Momentum continued to swing towards United, but Woonona's defence was proving up to the task in the opening 20 minutes.
And then, finally, Woonona were able to make a meaningful counter-attack through Brendan Pattman, before a United defender cleared the ball.
From a corner, Taro Regan-Williams jumped highest for Woonona, but his header missed the target.
Around the 25-minute mark, there was a delay in the game when Pattman stayed down with a leg complaint following a strong collision. He was assisted from the ground.
After that break, Flanagan had a couple of half chances, but was unable to connect with that vital kick. James Stojanovski also had a long-range shot, but it was gloved by Fernandez.
At the other end, Woonona's best chance came via Robbie Caudiosi, but the ball flew over the cross bar.
And then came a huge moment in the half. United had five shots on goal in less than two minutes, but Woonona's defenders got in the way four times and Fernandez also made a superb save.
After absorbing so much pressure, the Sharks took the ball up the other end, with a Tomohiro Ishi header being blocked by the United defence. But the following corner proved fruitless for Woonona.
With the clock ticking down, United's Zac McLaren found space down the wing and sent the ball in board. After a couple of passes, the ball went to Hikaru - whose long-range shot went over the bar.
The score remained 0-all at half time.
It was a quiet start to the second half, but Woonona's best attempt came around 10 minutes into the half. After passing it around, the ball ended at the feet of Jesse French, whose strike from outside the box just swung wide.
Soon after, United's Hikaru found himself one-on-one with Fernandez, but the Woonona gloveman was able to get his body in front of the ball.
United continued to press hard. After moving the ball around, Mason Versi found himself in an attacking position, but again the Sharks defence was up to the challenge.
Midway through the half, Versi was able to put a clever pass into the box, but Fernandez was once again able to glove the ball.
Billy Tsovolos was able to put in a dangerous kick soon after, with Fernandez again pouching the ball ahead of a flying Flanagan.
Hikaru then came within inches of finally scoring the game's opening goal, however, his shot just slid past the goal post.
United continue to press, with Flanagan putting in an exuberant shot, which went straight into a defender. Following a free kick, Brooks had a header which again just missed the target.
On the counter-attack, Ishi continued to look like the danger man. After beating his opponent, he put in a low cross to Caudisi, with the shot hitting the side of the net.
Tensions started to boil over late in the game. After a couple of free kicks were awarded to United, players from both teams engaged in some push and shove. But players were able to compose themselves and play resumed.
As the clock ticked down, United had a couple of half-chances, but Woonona's defence remained resilient.
However, the pressure finally told.
Kawakami found himself in space put in a dangerous ball to McLaren, who slid the ball past a diving Fernandez to score the match-winner in the 89th minute.
Woonona pressed hard in the dying minutes, but were unable to score the equaliser.
While United book their spot in the decider, Woonona do get a double chance. The Sharks will meet Albion Park in next weekend's preliminary final.
Sharks coach Dan McGoldrick was left to lament a missed opportunity after Sunday's semi-final.
"Effort, enthusiasm and hard work have never been an issue for our lads. It's just that today, we lacked a little bit of quality in our passing," he said.
"We didn't gamble enough in terms of getting ourselves into the box and towards the back end of that game, we got lots of opportunities with some really good balls played in by Damien Grew. I guess having to change the line-up early [due to Pattman injury] probably effected us a little more than I had anticipated, but Damo did a great job. We swapped Robbie [Gaudiosi] over, who was doing a great job on the other side.
"But I can't make excuses for the performance because our turnover in relation to passing particularly was not to the standard that's required to beat a side of this quality. And while they turned over a lot of ball, we turned over far more. I always though, on the balance of the game with all the chances that were around, that one goal was going to do it. And they were the more likely side to do so.
"We need to re-group, re-focus and play against an Albion Park side that is a very good football side, a side that we haven't beat. So I don't underestimate the difficulty of the task. We need to be a lot better than we were today to progress into the grand final. On the form we showed today, we're going to need a 50 per cent improvement to give Albion Park a decent shake."
Sunday's loss was further hampened by Pattman's injury, who has effectively been ruled out for the remainder of the season.
"He's in pretty bad shape. Our physio thinks he might have torn all three ligaments on the outside of his ankle," McGoldrick said.
"It's a big loss for us because he's been that's allowed that outlet for 'Tomo' [Ishi] to overlap and his form this season has been absolutely impeccable. So it's a big loss. I couldn't see him being back should we make the grand final."