Bridge Building For A Big Game

Mark Bridge is a man in demand, in an exclusive interview he opens up on his ankle, his "best season yet", penalties, Shinji Ono's influence and more.

Mark Bridge is a man in demand, in an exclusive interview he opens up on his ankle, his "best season yet", penalties and more as he chats to footballaustralia.com.au deputy editor Paul Johnson ahead of the grand final.

PJ: Mark, the big question, how is the ankle going?

MB: It-s getting better, its positive and has gotten better every day. There hasn't been a day when it hasn't gotten better so the Cortisone seems to have done its job and hopefully the next couple of days I-ll be running.

PJ: So you-re saying you-ll be right to go come game day on Sunday then? MB: I-ll do whatever it takes to get on that field; if I have a little bit of pain I-m sure I can deal with it for that game.

PJ: A lot of goals this year, a key role in a premiership side, in your own opinion, is this your best season ever? MB: I think so, not just for the fact I have scored the most goals, but because I have been consistent all year, it hasn't been an up and down year performance-wise and that-s what every player wants, and on top of that I have been injury free.

So yeah I think it has been my best season, but the reason I think it has been my best season, compared to why others think it has been my best year is probably a bit different. But as long as we both agree it has been my best season its fine.

PJ: And your defending as well, it's been high class when needed. MB: We all had a very good pre-season, which built a good base fitness and you need to be fit to play the way we do, and if you-re not up to Popa-s standards you-re not going to play.

PJ: It-s been brought up several times in the past, but you put a booze ban on yourself, all the boys seem to be on board - how much has that made a difference?

MB: I think it made a difference in that it's not about people drinking too much, its just the timing of it, whether it's the night of the game, the day after the game, or when you-re injured it-s not going to help you it has a snowball effect and then you're playing catch-up for a long time. I think not having a casual beer or two after the game has helped me recover better, it's played a pretty big part.

PJ: A couple of grand finals in the bag mate, you've got that happy knack of scoring when it counts. What-s on the cards this weekend? MB: The first thing on my mind is to take the field and if we get a win I-ll be happy a goal is just a bonus. I-m predicting a very close game; they are defensively sound like us, I think whoever scores first it will be hard for the other side to get back in it.

PJ: Who has the better motivation? You have the fairytale, they have several fractured ones in the past, and they-re likely sick of the ‘chokers- tag, they will want to get over the hump. MB: Whoever wins it will be great, for us it will be a first and same for them, great for both sets of fans. You can't call anyone choke artists or whatever, no two grand finals are related.

The two grand finals I have been in, being in those and winning isn't going to make me win this grand final and the same for them, just because they have lost doesn't mean they are guaranteed to lose, once that whistle goes anything can happen.

PJ: Where does the advantage lie for the Wanderers on the weekend? MB: Our advantages are our fans will play some sort of part, they are very intimidating and I'm sure the majority of a sold out Allianz Stadum will be red and black and also… we have Shinji; you need that X-Factor for these important games.

Their defence is sound and we need that special person who can produce that little bit of magic like he did last week, maybe he is the difference.

PJ: Shinji has been a class act all season, but Youssouf Hersi has also been outstanding; how much does his suspension hurt your team?

MB: He has been a very important part of our squad all year, he is very good in attack but also very good in defence, pinching the ball.

He is going to be a big loss, but throughout the season we have had times where players have been suspended or injured and they have come in and done a good job, so I-m sure the coaching staff will be confident that whoever comes in to fill Youssouf-s boots will do a good job.

PJ: Outside of your side the Mariners have the best defence in the league, tough, structured and resilient, does it come down to a moment of brilliance this weekend from either side?

MB: I think so. People have been saying since Monday that we are pretty even all over the park, play very similar, have similar players, both teams have great goalkeepers and it is going to take that little bit of an X-factor or something special to separate the two teams, otherwise it is going to go down to penalties.

PJ: Will you be taking a penalty if it does? MB: If I-m on the field. Anything could happen during a game, someone could be feeling better than me and then it comes down to personal choice on the day of the game.

PJ: Last time out Mat Ryan scuffed his penalty against you, post-game Graham Arnold said “senior players” should take penalties, do you subscribe to that theory? MB: You can say that but then you might have a senior player that is not having the best of games or not hitting them as sweetly as he might like, and he might not want to step up and think it is in the best interests of the team for someone else to take it and someone else might want to step up.

Sometimes the young guys are quite confident and what to prove their worth by stepping up.

PJ: Finally, what's the most important thing for the team and yourself this week?

MB: For the team, we have to prepare and treat it like a normal game, it sounds easy but it's not.

You were at training, you saw the media presence and the crowd and the closer it gets there is a lot more media and it's hard not to get caught up in the excitement. You need to do all the little things off the pitch, massages, recovery things like that. On a personal level, I-ll be doing everything I can to make sure I am 100 percent for Sunday.