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SWINDON TOWN: Ward is the voice of experience
AS A veteran of an FA Cup final, Darren Ward knows how to deal with a big occasion. Tonight, the grandfather of the Swindon Town team will have his work cut out making sure the rest of the Robins’ squad maintain their focus.
Ward reached Wembley with Millwall in 2004 and came up against a Manchester United side featuring Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo, and in the build-up to the game he recalls several Lions players being sidetracked by talk of the superstars they were set to come up against rather than focusing on the task at hand.
This time around, with the likes of Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o set to grace the County Ground turf, Ward will have his work cut out once again. But he is determined to make sure his teammates do not let their minds wander.
He said: “When we played at the FA Cup final when I was at Millwall a lot of the players were interested in which shirt they were going to get, and we had to say ‘lads, there’s an FA Cup final we’ve got to play’.
“Obviously this game isn’t as big as that but it’s at the same level when you’re playing a top class team and you have to focus on what you’re playing against. If you don’t they will give you a good thrashing and they weren’t hold any prisoners.
“They’re focused on the game, they’re not focused on getting your shirt and that is the professional side of it which we will have to make sure we have.
“An FA Cup final is a final, this is against a big side. It’s an earlier round in a different round but it’s still a big game.
“The concentration part of it is really important. You can be sidetracked for many reasons - there are a lot more press there, the TV is there, there are a lot more fans - there are a lot of reasons why you can be distracted so concentration is very important.
“That goes for every level. That’s probably going to be the most important area.
The match is a sell-out, meaning around 15,000 fans will pack out the County Ground for the town’s biggest footballing spectacle for many years.
Ward is used to full stadia, however, and thinks the capacity crowd will only add to the evening.
“I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to play in front of some very big crowds and it’s what you want to be doing in your career,” he said. “That’s why I’ve always worked so hard to be a professional - to have that atmosphere.
“You’ve got to embrace it, you want to enjoy it but you have to make sure you do what you have to do to get the right result.
“My role is to show some maturity within the side, to help the players who haven’t played in the big games and it’s important to have that calming experience.
“I have played in some big games in my career and they’re fantastic to play in and you do realise when you play in that you’re very lucky.”
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