Tony Popovic and Steve Corica will undoubtedly be planning meticulously for Sunday’s Hyundai A-League Grand Final – but they are not the only ones putting in long hours to be ready for the big game.
For the man with the whistle – referee Shaun Evans – the preparation is every bit as extensive as it is for the players and coaches from Perth Glory and Sydney FC.
Evans, who was named the Hyundai A-League Referee of the Year at the Dolan Warren Awards on Monday night, will take charge of his first season-end decider at Optus Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
One of two current full-time referees in the competition, along with Chris Beath, 31-year-old Evans will spend the entire week preparing for what he describes as being a ‘lifelong dream' since first picking up a whistle 12 years ago.
He mixes daily running or gym sessions with hours spent poring over video as he thoroughly analyses both teams to ensure he is ready for anything come match day.
“I watch a number of [the teams'] recent matches and look at a lot of things, from what their team tactics are to figuring out certain players that could cause a challenge on the day,” Evans explained to www.a-league.com.au.
“I also start around set-piece plays – corners, free-kicks – for any potential blocking, holding and who their targets are in the air at set-pieces, because then obviously we can focus more on those guys.
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“It’s the same defensively as well, who mans-up on who at each corner. These sorts of things are all really important to know in terms of managing any sort of set-pieces.”
It's a small snapshot into just how much work goes in to preparing for each and every game for Hyundai A-League officials.
Evans will be joined in the middle by assistant referees Andrew Lindsay and Paul Cetrangolo, fourth official Chris Beath and fifth official Josh Mannella, while Kris Griffiths-Jones will be VAR.
And ahead of Sunday’s Grand Final, Evans gave www.a-league.com.au an insight into what matchday is like for a referee, and how he will build up for the biggest game of the season.
Evans won’t set his alarm to wake him up on Sunday, wanting to ensure he gets a good sleep before beginning his day.
“Then it’s straight into breakfast – I’m an eggs on toast sort of person – and a coffee and then it’s off for a walk. I like to get out for a good hour, just to stretch out the legs and get some air.
“That’s when you really start focusing on what you have to do that day.
"Then it’ll be back in the room getting organised, listening to some music and having some chill time. I might go over some last-minute notes just to refresh my mind about the teams.”
After some down time around the hotel in Perth, Evans will assemble the rest of the refereeing group for a team lunch.
“I’ll sit down with them, usually over some pasta which is my favourite pre-match meal. It’s good to be together as a group and start to get ready for what’s ahead.
"Then I’ll go for a sleep after lunch – maximum 90 minutes – before getting ready to go to the stadium about two-and-a-half hours before kick-off."
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Evans and the rest of the officiating team will arrive at the ground two hours before kick-off, with the first port of call to get out onto Optus Stadium for a pitch inspection.
“Usually there’s no problems and it’s a good chance to familiarise yourself with the ground. Being a new stadium for a lot of the guys, just to experience it without any fans in it, take some photos.
“Then we’re into the rooms and I like to play some music, keep it pretty casual and make it a very relaxed and comfortable setting. You don’t need the added pressure of it being a sterile environment.
“I’ll give the boys a brief as to what’s expected in terms of their performance for that day. These guys are all very good at their job, but it’s more a refresh of my expectations throughout the game and potential challenges we may face with certain players or around potential scorelines in the game.
“We get a massage and then head out to do a warm-up about half-an-hour before kick-off for about 20 minutes. From that moment you are really switching to game-mode and you’ll probably see a more serious side from the referees.”
Like the players, Evans is sure to have a few butterflies in his stomach as the teams head onto the pitch in front of what is likely to be a crowd in excess of 55,000. The first high-profile task will be the coin toss with skippers Diego Castro and Alex Brosque.
“There won’t be any specific message at this point, I just pass on good wishes, tell them to 'have a good game and enjoy it'.
“There won’t be any clear instruction on how I want the game played. I’m not that sort of referee. I let them be who they are and I’ll manage them throughout the game.
"It’s best just to keep it casual and wish them all the best.”
The interval provides Evans and his team with 15 minutes to not only rest and recharge but also do a group review of how the first period panned out.
“That’s our chance to regroup and discuss what’s happening and what potentially could happen in the second -half.
“If there’s something we haven’t picked up on, the VAR or the match assessor may pass on some vital information which could be around formation things and stuff like that. Those sorts of bits of information might be really helpful for us for the rest of the match.”
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Evans’ main wish come the end of Sunday’s match will be that no one will actually know he was the referee.
“The main hope is that everyone isn’t talking about us and that we haven’t impacted the game in any [negative] way.
“As a group we’ll congratulate each other and get into the rooms, play some Aussie music classics and share a beer.
"I think that's important if you get through such a big occasion and do a good job – you have to make sure these things are celebrated and remembered.
“It’s something that, fingers crossed, goes well. We don’t want to be remembered in the Grand Final for a particular decision.
"As a refereeing team we want to remember this as a special game, whether it’s Perth or Sydney that wins.”