A few words of pre-match wisdom from All Blacks centre and Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith played a key part in Wellington Phoenix’s 3-2 elimination semi-final A-League win over Sydney FC on Friday.
Captain for the day, Tim Brown said Smith’s advice had been brief and to the point.
“He spoke about not letting emotions get to you too much, just sticking to your plan and ticking over and doing what you do really well,” Brown said.
“I think it was pretty important advice for tonight.”
In what Brown described as a typically-ugly Phoenix win, Wellington rode a rollercoaster before an 85th-minute Paul Ifill penalty saw them home.
All five goals came in the second half, with the last four in a hectic eight-minute period late in the spell.
Ahead 2-0 through Brown and Ben Sigmund with just over 10 minutes remaining, the Phoenix had to survive a spirited Sydney comeback after striker Joel Chianese levelled the scores with two goals in as many minutes.
Brown says Smith’s talk had been a special moment: “He said to say if we won, it was all down to his speech” – and the Phoenix had been wary of losing control in the all-or-nothing playoff.
“I think the danger would have been to get too emotional about it, too caught up in the moment. I tried pretty hard not to do that and, as a group, we tried hard not to do that.”
Brown’s efforts to keep his emotions in check almost came undone early, as regular skipper Andrew Durante handed him the captain’s armband just moments before kickoff.
Earlier in the week, Brown had announced he would retire from all football once the Phoenix’s A-League campaign ends.
After 110 games for the Phoenix, and 30 for the All Whites, Brown is returning to his studies after the opportunity to complete a masters degree in management at either the London School of Economics or Cambridge University proved too tempting to pass up.
“Just a few moments before the game, Dura came up and presented that to me … I tried to give it back to him a couple of times, but he wouldn’t take it.
“The emotions were pretty much in check up to that point, but I had to walk away and compose myself a wee bit.”
The Phoenix continue their play-off run against the winner of the Melbourne Heart-Perth Glory game in Perth on Sunday, with the possibility of another home match if the Heart score an upset win.