Grand Final fever

No matter how they try to deflect it, the pressure of the big ocassion can get to everyone - players, coaches and match officials. The challenge is how you deal with it.

Grand Finals are a unique experience for all involved, whether you are a player, a coach or an official.

You often hear people roll out the old cliché that “we-ll just be preparing as we would for any other game”. That can be true in as much as your training, opposition analysis and pre-match routine, but what you cannot fail to be aware of is the hype surrounding the occasion.

Fans and press converge en-masse at training sessions that are usually watched by a handful of people, and the column inches get splashed across the newspapers.

The challenge is how you deal with it. It-s no surprise that the best players, coaches and officials are those which cope with the situation most effectively.

What-s their secret? I don-t know - how does anyone cope with pressure better than the next person? Some people have a better innate ability to block external influences out than others.

I saw an interesting interview with Ange Postecoglou where he was asked what was going through his mind when his team were behind with 10 minutes to go in the final versus Central Coast Mariners.

His answer was simple, but enlightening - he replied that he was just processing what changes he could make to give his side the best chance to get back in the game and score.

Whereas many amongst us might have panicked at the prospect of the greatest prize slipping through their fingers, and yelled at the players to simply bomb it into the box and feed off scraps, Ange had the clarity of mind under extreme pressure to coolly analyse the situation. I don-t think you can teach that sort of single-mindedness.

I-m sure that sports psychologists globally have written numerous theses on the subject, but all I know from personal experience is that anything theoretical goes out the window when you walk down a tunnel into a wall of noise, sing the national anthem and the whistle blows.

A coach can be at fault for revving up his players too much - you don-t want players to experience a red mist moment in the first few minutes, or fall flat after the initial burst of adrenaline wears off.

Players sometimes get over-hyped and step over the line when trying to impose themselves early on in a contest. It-s always tempting to crunch into a tackle in the first few minutes to let your opponent know you mean business, but getting an early yellow (or red!) could have serious consequences for your team.

This is where referees play an important part. For me the best referees have always been the best communicators. The ones that can whisper in your ear after an early over-zealous challenge and tell you that you-ve had your chance, rather than immediately whip out a yellow card, are generally the ones that maintain a good spirit and tempo to a game. The nit pickers and card-happy officials are usually the worst in my experience.

Officials, too, need to keep their cool. As with players, they too may often feel that they need to impose themselves in a big game and show that they won-t tolerate any nonsense.

The challenge though is to rein this in sensibly and not issue unnecessary cards, which put players under pressure for the rest of the game for first infringements or fouls which on another day would perhaps not have attracted a caution.

On the other hand, you can-t let players get away with murder, or you risk tempers fraying and a free for all ensuing. A bad foul is still a bad foul whether it's in the first or the 91st minute.

The Grand Final in which Adelaide Utd-s Brazilian striker was wrongly dismissed after 10 minutes for what the referee thougth was an errant elbow was a classic example of a bad decision completely changing the face of a game. The fact that the red card was expunged after the game didn-t make Cristiano or Adelaide feel any better after they had lost.

No one said being a referee was easy, which is why I-m fully supportive of any technological aids that can benefit them, as any human error that can be taken out of the game must be a good thing in my opinion.

My advice would be to embrace the occasion. Enjoy the hype, because you never know if there will be another chance to play (or coach, or officiate) in a Grand Final.

But once the whistle blows, try to replicate the play that got you there in the first instance. Don-t try and re-invent the wheel for the final and most important game of the season. Trust in those methods which have got you this far…..and hope for the best!