He is not about to be mistaken for Apollo Creed any time soon, but Melbourne City head coach Warren Joyce has revealed on Thursday afternoon that he and his City staff have borrowed one of the maxims of the fictional heavyweight champion of the world turned coach in their training this year: the eye of the tiger.
City broke a number of club records in Joyce’s first year in charge at the club, setting new marks in final ladder position, clean sheets and equalling the club record for least goals conceded.
And on Friday night, City will run out against Newcastle Jets with the prospect of setting another new mark in Melbourne Heart/City history. A win will send Joyce’s side to the first grand final in the club’s history.
Speaking at City’s Bundoora headquarters prior to his side’s flight to Newcastle that afternoon, Joyce explained the record-breaking season has been accompanied by an increased focus in the mental side of the game, incorporating the lessons of success from some of City’s cross-code Melbourne neighbours.
“We’ve spoken to the (Storm) staff,” Joyce elucidated.
“We’ve been into Carlton and we’ve had Neil Craig in a few times.
“Different things that they’ve said or different things that we’ve said you see happening now that maybe weren’t happening at the start of the year.
“(We’ve covered) a lot of things about culture; serial winners and the characteristics of serial winners, pride, what type of characters are required or what it looks like – what winning looks like.
“I think its massive over here, in AFL and the NRL: leadership groups, self-managing players and self-managing teams. We’ve done some work on that, introduced that.
“Neil Craig had a conversation about zoo tigers and jungle tigers. How the zoo tiger gets fed and looked after and the jungle tiger has to fend for itself.
“You want players capable of making decisions and fending for themselves and making the right choices at the right time and putting high demands on one another.
“I think that’s progressed during the year.”
Asked his squad was now filled with jungle tigers as opposed to zoo tigers, Joyce jokingly offered a different take.
“You’d like to think so,” he laughed.
“You’d like to think we could even create zoo tigers that are hungrier than jungle tigers – have an environment that hard that they’d be glad to get out in the jungle!”
Joyce’s supposed tigers – be they of the jungle or the zoo variety – will be entering into Friday night’s semi-final as the favourite in the eyes of many observers, having won four of their past five fixtures compared to the stuttering late-season run of the Jets.
City has also had the wood over their second-placed rivals in the three regular-season meetings between the two sides, recording a 2-2 draw at AAMI Park and defeating them twice, 2-1 in Round 9 and 3-0 in round 25, in the Hunter.
Joyce, however, said his side was not treating the Jets with anything but respect.
“(They have a) good manager and good players,” Joyce said.
“They’ve obviously had a good season. They’re free-flowing, got plenty of players in the side who can score goals and also players on the bench that can score goals.
“It’s a tough game regardless of our history against them this season, it’s immaterial in knockout games because anything can happen.”
Asked if he thought his group had a mental advantage over their opponents thanks to their successes against them this year, Joyce was coy.
“That’s for them to be scared by – we’ve beat them twice at their ground,” he said.
“But it’s a one-off game tomorrow and whoever’s desperate to win that fight comes out a winner at the end of it. And we’re just as hungry, hungrier than we’ve ever been this season because it’s a one-off game.
“Who turns up tomorrow? Who’s brave enough to get on the ball? Who’s brave enough and competitive enough to never give up and grind and make the result go your way? We’ve got to make sure that we do that.”
One player that will not be prowling McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night is City captain Michael Jakobsen, who was ruled out by Joyce for his third straight week.
“He’ll not be travelling,” Joyce said.
“It’s frustrating and very disappointing for the lad because he’s had such a good season.
“He’s played nearly every minute of every game, been asked to play several different positions, sacrifice himself for the team throughout the season and done most of the training. So frustrating for him.
“He’s not fit for this week, that’s all you can look at the minute. He wasn’t right at the start of the week so that was it, end of his chance really.
“He had a go at the start of the week, got through a large chunk of the session really. It’s just certain things that break him down. It’s just kicking longer balls that give him longer problems.
“You can’t afford to start and know that one kick. He’s struggling with it. That’s the way its been for ten days so we’re trying to get him clear if we possibly can.”