Handling the pressure. Winning Origins, Olympic Gold and Group Ones. Could you do it?

July 7, 2012

Have you ever kicked a field goal?

I have. A wobbly effort from in front of the posts, about twenty-five years ago. Before a crowd of around fifty.

I missed a few hundred others. Mainly at training sessions. Time and again, they’d go wide, or fail to get off the ground.

Try one yourself. Grab a footy, head down to the park, and have a go.

If you nail it, give yourself a pat on the back.┬áThen imagine that you were kicking in front of 50-thousand screaming fans, at league headquarters.┬áMinutes to go in the game’s biggest showpiece. With the hopes and dreams of a state riding on your effort.

If you are still on your feet, you may have scratched the surface of what Cooper Cronk achieved this week. A pressure situation that he’d been training for all his life.

Pressure. We all handle it in different ways. On different stages. Some run a mile to avoid it. Others, like the Maroons half-back, eat it for breakfast.

Minutes earlier in the Origin classic, there was another example of a bloke dealing with a pressure situation that would have turned others into quivering wrecks.

I’m no fan of Todd Carney. But his kick from the sideline to keep his side, and his state, in the game, was career-defining.

Miss it, and they would have had his head. He knew that. Easier kicks had been missed throughout the series. He knew that too.

So what does he do? Hits it sweetly. Never looked like missing. You won’t see too many more impressive efforts.

It’s what they train to do, these blokes. They want the big moments. They yearn for the play that will win the contest.

Plenty was made of Luke Nolen’s effort on Black Caviar at Ascot a few weekends ago. A winning effort, mind you. But one that almost ended in tears.

The thing about Nolen is that he has dealt with pressure like no-one else these past few racing seasons.

Time and again, he’s ridden the perfect race on the Mighty Mare. With a nation watching his every move.

Every win brought added attention. Which he handled with total professionalism, and a splash of humour.

Don’t under-estimate just how tough his job is. Trainer and connections expect perfection every time. The price of steering one of the world’s greatest ever racehorses. And Nolen wouldn’t swap the gig for anything.

Glen Boss was the same. Listen to his interviews about riding the great Makybe Diva into the record books.

When they stepped out to win their third Melbourne Cup, the weight of expectation was enough to suffocate mere mortals. Boss thrived on it. A moment he’d worked for his whole career.

Cathy Freeman could have identified with all of them. Very few can say they’ve carried the hopes of a nation. Phar Lap. Bradman. Laver. And our Cathy.

It was the event we wanted to win at the Sydney Olympics. Actually, it was more than that. We expected to win it. When the girl from Mackay lined up in the 400 that night, she must have heard every one of us cheering.

Can you imagine how that would have felt? What it would have been like to let us down?

She didn’t, of course. Because champions make that pressure work for them, not against them.

We’ll see similar efforts at the London Olympics. And we’ll see someone else step up in Origin next year. And at Randwick or Flemington. Those special people, who want to shine, when others are looking for somewhere to hide.

If you miss that field goal, have another try. And another. That’s what Cooper Cronk did. Funny how the harder you work, the luckier you get.