It’s silly to say Munster have no pressure on them just because they’re underdogs
Alan Quinlan says this Heineken Cup semi-final won’t be about throwing caution to the wind – it has to be about winning
Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne celebrates his try against Toulouse in the quarter-final. “Munster have a handful of young guys who can change everything if they grab their chance on Saturday. Dave Kilcoyne, Dave Foley, Tommy O’Donnell, Ian Keatley – these are the kind of guys who have to do it.” Photograph: Inpho
All week you will hear people talking about the job Munster have on their hands against Toulon this weekend. Somewhere along the way, you are almost certain to hear somebody – maybe a player, maybe a coach, maybe a pundit – say that because Munster are going to France as such huge underdogs, they have no pressure on them. Don’t believe a word of it.
Of all the sports cliches, I never believed that one. I’ve played in games where we were favourites and in games where we were underdogs: trust me, there’s less pressure when you’re playing for the better team. There is massive pressure on any team going into a game where the opposition are packed with superstars or have a passionate home crowd behind them or both.
It’s the pressure of knowing that winning is going to be so difficult, that the thing your season has been built around could come to an end. Or worse, it’s the pressure of knowing if you don’t perform, this could get very ugly. It’s the pressure of realising unless you go out and hold to the game plan and get a bit of luck along the way, you could be on the wrong side of a hiding.
First and foremost, these games are about winning. The pressure you feel going into any game has to be all to do with getting the right result. If you’re going in with the attitude “Well, sure nobody expects us to win anyway”, then I don’t think you’ve got the right mentality.
You have to put pressure on yourself. It can’t be coming from outside. The pressure you feel going into a big game shouldn’t be anything to do with living up to the expectations of people outside your dressing room. Pressure is partly nerves, partly a fear of not performing, partly a hatred of not winning. Those should be constant, regardless of whether you are favourites or underdogs.
Saying you’re going in with no pressure on you is basically saying there’s an excuse. The worst thing Munster could be thinking this week would be that as long as they go to France and give a good account of themselves, nobody will be too harsh on them because nobody expects them to win.
In a week like this, you have two choices as a player. You can go and do your best, safe in the knowledge that even your best might not be good enough, or you can decide that this is your chance to do something wonderful that will be remembered forever. No top player will take the first option.
That’s not to say they won’t tell the outside world that all the pressure is on Toulon. But that’s pure deflection. People might see it as a way of keeping the pressure off your own team or ramping it up on the opposition, but it’s just a red herring. It doesn’t mean anything and it doesn’t have any effect, other than maybe a few headlines.
You have your own pressure. It comes from within – and it’s a good thing. You want pressure, you want to give yourself a shot at competing. You want those nerves, you want that fear. It helps you focus and get your head into the right place so that you go into the game in no doubt as to what’s required.