Casting his mind back to just over a year ago, Palace captain Mile Jedinak was lifting the AFC Asian Cup in front of nearly 80,000 fans (including 80 family and friends), who watched Australia win the tournament on home soil.
With his calm and determined demeanour, Jedinak led his country to victory and he’ll be hoping to do the same come Saturday evening when the Eagles face Manchester United – a team not shy of FA Cup silverware having won the competition eleven times.
Speaking ahead of the match, the midfielder says the occasion won’t get lost on any of the players but in moments like this, it is as much down to the mental preparation as the physical.
“This is going to be a huge game for myself, the football club, the fans. Last year in January when we won the Asian Cup at my hometown in Sydney, at that point in time, that was as big as things got. But this is my home away from home and I’ve got the privilege to go and do something special for a football club where I’ve experienced a lot of great things, and to be given the opportunity to try and add one more to that piece of the puzzle is really exciting.
“We’ve just got to stay focused, you take all the atmosphere in absolutely, but we’re going to have a game plan and we’ve got try and stay as cool as possible. As mad as it sounds, in the semi-final I did hear the roar at the start of the game but after we scored it was almost quiet, I was in the zone and I had to block it out.
“There might be a point in the game where it could be quite difficult to block out the noise, but you’ve got to call on all your resource and experience and understanding of these sort of situations to use it on the big stage.”
Although Palace may not have the medal hall of their Cup final opposition, some of the key players from the Eagles’ 2012 play-off final winning team are stalwarts of the current first eleven, and Jedinak says it has been a privilege to play within such a close-knit side, and watching a particular fan favourite come of age.
“We’ve been lucky to have a core group and a real togetherness. Togetherness is what got us promoted to the Premier League, the players, staff, supporters, owners, and having that still around is a big part of what we’re doing now and it means an awful lot to see that the club is still doing those sort of things.
“With Wilf, I’ve had the pleasure of playing with him for a number of seasons now and to see him grow not only on the pitch but off the pitch and see him grow up from being a boy to a man, that’s something that brings me a lot of happiness. He’s always had responsibility put on him, and one thing I do know is he never shies away from it.”
The direct running and explosive pace of both Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie will be two of Palace’s main threats this weekend - traits which often draw fouls from those not quick enough to keep up with attacking wingers - and the captain knows, if called upon, he will need to help keep tempers in check.
“For me it’s important to know who I’m playing with and I know Wilf’s temperament and what he’s like and things that are going to wind him up. But there comes a point in time when you can only argue so much with the ref, yourself, and sometimes someone needs an arm round, or talked to more sternly, but it’s all meant to have the same impact and get the best response in that moment.
“The boys are so full of emotion, seeing red or getting hacked down - someone’s got to take responsibility for it and that’s either the captain on the pitch or one of the senior players. I do it because I’m happy to do that, no one has to tell me to do it, I do it on my own back, and as long as I’m not getting myself in any trouble you have to help your teammates out in any way.”
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