YEARS of disappointment and the love of his new wife have spurred on Oakleigh Cannons star Ricky Diaco this season.
Now Diaco hopes those emotions will push him to lead the Cannons to a long-awaited Victorian Premier League title this Sunday.
The Cannons will face Dandenong Thunder in the final at AAMI Stadium.
After he played in the VPL for many seasons, last year's finals campaign was Diaco's first at senior level.
That fact would surprise many people, as he has been among the best players in the competition for the better part of a decade.
"There was six years in a row there where the teams I played in finished seventh," he said.
"With South Melbourne, Frankston, Bulleen and the first season with Oakleigh, we finished seventh all the time.
"I thought 'Is it me? Am I a curse?"'
But those thoughts were put to rest last season as the Cannons stormed into the finals and faced reigning champions Green Gully in the final.
Despite Diaco scoring a goal and setting up another, the match ended up going to extra time where Gully won 3-2.
The elation of making his first grand final was soon overtaken by the sadness of losing.
Diaco still struggles to put his emotions into words, but that disappointment has driven him this season as the Cannons kicked into gear in the second half of the season to make the finals despite the distraction of the club's decision to sack coach Huss Skenderovic mid-season, replacing him with Peter Zois and Bill Theodoropoulos.
Diaco still recalls the horror of last year's grand final day.
"The feeling after the game; I don't know how to describe it," he said.
"It's like losing the love of your life, getting dumped by her.
"You put so much into it, 10-11 months work, I really felt it after the game.
"But it has become motivation for us now."
Rather quietly, Diaco also became a married man this season tying the knot with his wife, Lumniye, in early June, right on his 30th birthday.
The pair haven't had their honeymoon yet due to the VPL season.
In his earlier days, Diaco was known for enjoying the night life but that has all changed now.
"As I say to the boys, she has tamed the wild beast," Diaco joked.
"The last two years she has been amazing for me. I'm a social butterfly and love to be around people but I've settled down now and have more early nights."
The Cannons can't wait for Sunday to come around and Diaco believes the extra week's rest has been perfect for his side.
He said taking its chances at goal will decide whether it can lift the VPL title.
"One goal can be so crucial," Diaco said.
"I can see it in the boys. They are so hungry to win this game. We can't wait for game day."
■ A hat-trick from Dandenong Thunder star Luke Sherbon took his side to the VPL grand final on Saturday.
The Thunder beat two-time champions Green Gully 4-1 at Kingston Heath Soccer Complex in the preliminary final. Sherbon scored two goals just minutes apart late in the first half before scoring a late penalty.
Roddy Vargas scored a header for Gully while Thunder's Liam Kearney scored the other goal.
VPL GRAND FINAL
Who: Oakleigh Cannons v Dandenong Thunder
When: AAMI Park, Sunday 5.30pm
Players to watch: Oakleigh — Ricky Diaco, Lambros Honos, Rasmus Festersen; Dandenong — Luke Sherbon, Nate Foster, Liam Kearney.
Tickets: The VPL final will be a double-header with Melbourne Heart's first home game of the A-League season. Special tickets that cover both the Heart's clash with Wellington at 3pm and the VPL final at 5.30pm are available from Ticketek. Supporters can use the promotional code, FFVGRANDFINAL2012, for access to a discounted price.