Brandon O'Neill

Secrets of Our Success

Brandon O'Neill
Secrets of Our Success

“Win all three trophies”. It was the goal that Graham “Arnie” Arnold and his coaching staff had set the team while sitting in the sheds on the first day of pre-season. As I looked around the room and surveyed the talent that was present I felt that it was not beyond us, it was something we could achieve.

We were coming off a poor season domestically but we had performed quite well in the Champions League. We had a lot to improve on if we were thinking of lifting all three trophies.

That goal wasn’t just mentioned once and never brought up again. From day one we heard it every day, not only by the coaching staff but from the seniors all the way down to the youth team which trained with us. “Three trophies boys, three!” sang out at practice throughout the season.

The season really excited me. Taking away team results from the year prior, it was my first full season and I really enjoyed my football. This season we had a really strong team put together. You could sense the belief, not only through the attitude of the players but the coaching staff too. It was bang on. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you get the right people working together.

I believe this was one of the secrets to our success. The people in the club were not only great footballers, but they were bloody good people.

The Gold Coast trip was our first time as a team together. We were in each other’s pockets day in day out for ten days. There was a strong bond created between the lads. We not only endured countless intense sessions on the pitch, but we were also rewarded with some off field freedom to get to know each other. It was a great way to help us click as a unit. I’ll never forget the sessions we did with Mike Conway, our mind coach. As a group and as individuals we set goals for the season ahead. It was an extremely positive experience.

My personal goal was to win something. I hadn’t won anything since a junior competition back in 2012.

High priority.

I wanted to re-sign with Sydney FC, the club that had given me the opportunity to play in the A-League. I wanted to stay with them and repay them for showing faith in me as a footballer.

I also wanted to improve as a player. As a young lad, you want to test yourself against the best players, not only in your team but also across the league.

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It didn’t take long for me to realise that the season was going to be a special one.

Round 1. A 4-0 win. It wasn’t the score, it was the way we went about it. It was the hunger for more. We didn’t want to stop at two or three or four. We just kept on attacking. After the match we believed that if we could improve on that performance, then no one would touch us for the rest of the year.

There was a real drive to get to the FFA Cup Final. Getting there and losing it was the turning point for our season.

After the presentations I remember Alex Wilkinson and Matty Simon pulling the boys together, they made us promise to each other that we were going to win the championship. We didn’t want to feel this way come seasons end.

From here on in training sessions were as intense as the games we played. Everyone wanted to get better and no one was letting anyone slack off. No one accepted poor standards and mediocrity. Everyone held each other accountable. It didn’t matter if we had won 8-0 on the weekend, we would all be at training the next week working our arses off. We understood that there were guys waiting in the wings to join in on this winning run. You would be sitting on the sidelines that weekend if you were caught out. Mini games and passing drills had to be spot on, perfect. The proof was in the pudding come game day. We were on the ball.

Not only can you credit the coaching staff but also the Strength and Conditioning coach, Andrew Clark, played a massive role in our successes. His regime was flawless. I can’t speak highly enough of him and the coaching staff.

It’s a surreal feeling coming into training when on a run of wins like we were. I mean there were days where someone was a little grumpy, but 99% of the time you were ecstatic. Who would have thought going to training would be so enjoyable? It wasn’t only training. Everything around you felt great. What you ate for lunch, the weather, even the grass you were running on. I remember thinking ‘I want to stay in this zone forever’. It stemmed to the utmost belief in everything we were doing. From training sessions to the gym program, to what we were eating and even the number of hours we slept.

When it came to match-day the belief was strong, not only in yourself but also in your team. This wasn’t happening by fluke and we knew it. It was from the hard work we had put in, day in, day out.

Our first loss of the season, to the Western Sydney Wanderers, was such a weird feeling.

After the match we sat down and Arnie, after one incredibly motivating speech, had us believing we didn’t actually lose the match. There were many chances we didn’t take and there were decisions made that were out of our control. He made sure that we were all on the same page, and that the best way to respond was to win our next game.

That week was one of the best training weeks, it was the most intense it had been all year. Everyone was hungry to get that winning feeling back. It was the norm, and we were desperate to get it back.

Results spoke for themselves as we dismantled Melbourne City 3-1. We jumped straight back on the horse in style.

The night before we won the Premiership, Brisbane drew to Victory meaning we couldn’t be caught. There were some light celebrations, some hugs and hi-fives at dinner, but it was business as usual the next day against Perth. It was a great occasion for me to have my family and friends, being that I’m from Perth, around me after the match.

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The premiership wasn’t the end for us. Instead, it spurred us on to finish the job.

I had always thought that training the week of the final would be intense. It was quite the opposite. The coaching staff wanted the players to feel comfortable and remain calm throughout the week.

Having played in the FFA Cup Final earlier in the year helped me a lot going in to this one. I knew it would be much bigger, but I felt I had a grasp on the atmosphere, the physicality and the mental state I needed to be in.

The team was quietly confident heading in to the big one. We felt that as long as we had that self-belief and confidence in everything we’d worked on throughout the year, we’d be holding the trophy up.

On Grand Final day I had my family over from Perth. Match Day is a day I like to relax and do my own thing, and my fiancée respects that. My routine didn’t stray from the norm. I was 100% ready.

There was a stressful moment though. We had to drive to a hotel five minutes from the stadium to jump on the team bus. I haven’t stressed about being somewhere on time like I did that day. Bloody Sydney traffic. I felt like I was catching every red light. I was swearing, punching the steering wheel and profusely sweating from the brow. Having my family in that car was a life saver. Their calming influence had me relaxed and on the team bus on time.

I saw that belief at half-time of extra-time. “Nothing stopping us. We are going to win this” was being yelled out by many of the lads, there was so much belief. You could see it in everyone’s eyes.

Scoring a penalty in a Grand Final for the winning team is one hell of a feeling. One I feel privileged to have felt.

I’ve watched the penalty shootout a couple of times now. I look really relaxed; I even had time to tuck my shirt in. Little did everyone know; I was absolutely breaking it inside.

Valeri had just missed his penalty, meaning it was my turn. I knew my mum and fiancée would be crying their eyes out and dad would be looking the other way.

At the time, as much as my stomach was in knots, my mind was in a strong space. I didn’t have thousands of scenarios running through my head, just the one.

It’s all about finding your spot and then repetition. We’d been practicing penalties since the start of the finals series. It’s weird, if you do something over and over and over again, you start to become quite good at it. It becomes second nature. That was our edge.

As soon as I had the ball in my hand it all clicked. I knew how many steps I had to take back, and how I had to strike the ball. I knew that if I did all of that, the rest was left to whatever God is up there. If the keeper pulls off a great save, you take your hat off to them as you’ve done everything humanly possible. I went bottom left and the rest is history. I found my family in the crowd and blew them a few kisses.

Looking back, I think I was more nervous driving to the team bus, then I was at the penalty spot.

Scoring a winning penalty in a Grand Final is an opportunity you don’t get too often; it is a moment that I will cherish forever.

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Arnie mentioned to us in the sheds after the match that we had done, what no team in A-League history had done. “To break that many records and win the final the way we did was phenomenal. Let’s celebrate and enjoy the off season but when you come back on day one of preseason, your mindset must be that we are going to do this again.”

He also went on to say that “this season may never be repeated again” then stopped it there, and said, “until we do it again next year, when we win the three trophies.” Loud cheers rang through the sheds and the party started.

To win a championship is an incredible feeling, but to be able to do it with your family is an even better one. It’s not only you that goes through a season of football. My fiancée lived it; my family and friends came on the journey, my support team. They’ve shared my journey over the years and to repay them with a Championship is priceless. It was really nice to hear how proud they all were of me.

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The Grand Final, was a unique experience, I’ll never forget it. I’d never played in a game like it. There was no football involved, no tactics, everything was second nature for both teams. It was always going to come down to the team that could hold their nerve. It was all in the mind.

Last season is going to help me make the most of my career. I’ve always believed I had a winning mentality, but now I feel it. Once you have that you never want to let it go. It’s become a big driver for me this offseason. I don’t want to just be a part of something. I want to be a part of a winning something.

I want to enjoy the good times. When you’re enjoying something you often do it to the best of your ability. As a team last season we enjoyed playing football. It was a key factor to our success.

I recently sat with my fiancée and chatted about the season. “Those lads are not just teammates Brandon; they are now family” she said. It couldn’t be truer. It was one of Arnie’s big drivers last year.

And at the end of the day that’s what we did. We played football for our family, and we won as a family. 

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