O'Donovan facing long stint on sidelines after shocking kick to face

Roy O’Donovan’s reaffirmed his volatile reputation when he was sent off in injury time in Newcastle’s 1-0 loss to Melbourne Victory in Saturday’s A-League grand final.

Shocker: Lawrence Thomas of Victory receives a boot to the face from Roy O Donovan.

With Victory clinging to their lead and only minutes remaining, O’Donovan arrived fractionally late as Melbourne goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas fielded a Dimi Petratos free-kick.

O’Donovan’s dangerously raised boot struck Thomas in the face, prompting a melee and leaving referee Jarred Gillett with no option other than to issue a red card.

It was the second send-off this season for the striker, after receiving a two-game suspension for an incident against Sydney FC in March, in which he struck defender Jordy Buijs in the face with his hand.

He was also suspended for eight weeks after a head-butting incident two years ago when he was playing for Central Coast.

After the Buijs incident, O’Donovan said the collision was accidental and he had been harshly judged because of his reputation as “an Irish hooligan”.

Facing a ban: O’Donovan leaves the field after his red card.

He will almost certainly be facing more time on the sidelines for his reckless challenge in the grand final.

O’Donovan’s send-off, and the controversial nature of the only goal in the game, will be the post-match talking points.

In the biggest game of the A-League season, the much-maligned Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system was again found wanting, leaving the Jets and their fans with a gut-wrenching sense of injustice.

Nine minutes into the grand final, Newcastle had to defend a free-kick from wide on their right flank.

Dutch winger Leroy George found James Donachie with his left foot, and the ensuing header landed favourably for Kosta Barbarouses, whose shot deflected off Johnny Koutroumbis into Newcastle’s goal.

But as the visitors celebrated their 1-0 lead, replays indicated Donachie was offside.

It was exactly the type of line-ball incident that led to the introduction of the VAR more than 12 months ago.

But for whatever reason, the man upstairs chose not to intervene, and the goal stood, leaving Newcastle with 81 minutes to square the ledger.

Several times before half-time they appeared certain to do so, most notably when O’Donovan was so confident he had scored he prematurely started to celebrate.

Fourteen minutes later, the Jets were again denied by Thomas, who somehow blocked consecutive shots from Riley McGree and Jason Hoffman.

Victory headed to the interval one goal to the good, but other than their disputed goal, spent most of the first half on the back foot.

They returned in the second half intent on scrapping and spoiling and doing whatever it took to defend their lead.

Newcastle grew increasingly desperate, their commitment exemplified by O’Donovan, who soldiered on despite a stay elbow that left him bleeding from a facial wound.

But the Victory were in no mood for a home-town fairytale in front of a 29,410-strong crowd – Newcastle’s biggest-ever soccer crowd.

Hoping to becoming the first team in A-League history to go from wooden spooners to champions in the space of a season, the Jets simply ran out of time.

Any disappointment about the result, and the dubious goal that cost them the game, is offset by memories of a record-breaking season that ended seven years in the play-off wilderness.

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