As the Western Sydney Wanderers prepare for another grand final, they're determined not to make the same mistake as last year by embracing the overwhelming public support that proved a distraction in the build-up to their defeat.
Winger Kwabena Appiah said the fanfare of their debut grand final appearance, barely six months after the club's birth, was so infectious it crept into the dressing room and became a distraction in the build-up to the 2-0 loss to Central Coast at Allianz Stadium.
It was almost impossible to hear the the club's name mentioned without the word "fairytale" before last season's grand final. The enthralling story of the club's success in its maiden year accumulated thousands of supporters and was embraced by the players nearly as much as the fans. Combined with a number of other factors, such as squad depth, it diverted their attention away from the task at hand.
“It was captivating. I think last year it wasn’t so much for ourselves, it was more for our fans. To win the premiership, go on a massive undefeated streak and if we then won the trophy, we would’ve gone down in history,” Appiah said.
A year older and wiser, the Wanderers have barely mentioned the title match within their own ranks during their first two training sessions this week and are doing their best to ignore the attention. After the distractions of last year, Appiah said the mood of the squad had been composed rather than excited.
“This year, we’re fired up more than ever to get our ultimate goal. Very focused. We learnt from last year about all the distractions leading up to the grand final, so that’s why I’m saying this week is so relaxed, so calm, not even playing on the players' minds. It’s just another game.”
The Wanderers are riding a wave of confidence leading into the grand final. They have won their last four games, all played within a fortnight. Their ability to achieve results in domestic and continental competitions has relaxed their nerves.
"No one’s worried. Whatever team is thrown out, we know that it's going to win," Appiah said. "Last season was the start of something great and this year, I think we’re better and more composed. We’re a bit more focused because we’ve had so many games over such a short time, we’ve been mentally stronger this year ... The system’s embedded in everyone’s head. It’s like a fine print; everyone’s confident, very confident.”
The 21-year-old was named the club's best player for their Asian Champions League campaign at their awards night. He is hopeful of continuing his week of success with a starting berth in the grand final. Last year, he was the beneficiary of Youssouf Hersi's suspension and is in the frame to be included on the team sheet again in place of the injured Mark Bridge. While Appiah has not played much on the left, he believes he can offer a strong alternative.
"Every right footer likes playing on the left, I can cut in and lay-off. If I play on the left, I'll be buzzing," Appiah said.
Marquee player Shinji Ono cleaned out at the Wanderers awards night at Olympic Park, taking out the two top prizes on the night. In his last season with the club, the Japanese star was named the Wanderers' A-League Player of the Year as well as the Members' Player of the Year. Linda O'Neill was named the W-League Player of the Year while Catherine Cannuli won their Golden Boot award. Defensive midfielder Jake McGing, 19, was named National Youth League Player of the Year.