Up for It: Finch rallies troops for final furlong
With less than six weeks remaining in the Budweiser League season, the race to inherit the title monopolised in recent seasons by the Leopards is down to a two horse race. Manchester v Sheffield. Giants v Sharks, Nurse v Finch.
Over in the eastern side of the Pennines, Sheffield's youthful playcaller Chris Finch is in his second year at the helm but acting like a veteran, leading his team to the best win-loss record so far and picking up the Sainsbury's Cup en route.
Even when the Sharks put the Uniball Trophy in their cabinet last March, the doubters were offering their theories that the affable Ohio-native couldn't handle a team on a consistent basis. This year, he's proved them all wrong and some. Myers et al are the team of the season. No doubt, despite their narrow exit from the Trophy at the semi-final passage. But what will the Minister Finch be preaching to maintain their pole position right through to that first week in April when the chequered flag comes down ?
"For me it's mental toughness. We've proven we have the talent, we certainly have the depth, we have the experience, the intelligence. We feel we've got the system and what we have to do is put it all together. What helps us to do that is by staying focused and mentally tough."
"That means when you're up by ten points, doing the right things to go up 15 and when you're down 10, chipping away and being smart. There are no Denver Nuggets in the Budweiser League. There are no given games. You have to recognise that as well."
Last season, Finch sometimes had the aura of a man weary of imposing his will on veterans who were perhaps even sceptical of a man who had literally just unlaced his playing sneakers at their side. Finch admits mistakes were made but like any good teacher, the learning path is ongoing. What lessons has he taken from the last 18 months that will take the team to a Championship?
"I'm learning all the time and I made three crucial mistakes during our recent loss to Thames Valley that I won't make again. I hope to keep applying that experience game after game. What I really have is the faith in my guys to get it done on the court. I believe in preparation, I believe in working hard and training hard and so that application fits naturally into a game."
"I'm not a big believer that I can have a lot of influence over a game once game day comes. I want them to be ready when they go to play a game because they're the ones who have to sort out all the problems. "
With a run in which includes just three more home matches, Sharks must be road warriors to secure a first crown since 1995. In their a variety of teams from both ends of the table. However most people are looking at their remaining double headers against their sole title rivals as the key. Is it that particular head to head with Giants that will decide things ?
"The head to head is very very important in deciding the league title," admits Finch. "There's absolutely no doubt about that. But unless we take care of business between now and then, those games won't mean a whole lot. So we're trying to stay focused on the next person in front of us. And not just beating them but beating them by the margin we think we deserve."
There are so many variables: injuries, off nights, John White to yet declare Finch's Sharks of 1999 as the uncrowned kings of the campaign. However one unmoveable set in stone thing. The coach is ready and his players better be also..or else.
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