THE COUNTDOWN has started to the biggest game of Mile Jedinak’s club career.
Tonight the Crystal Palace skipper leads his team out at Wembley against Watford in the final Championship showdown to determine who wins promotion to the English topflight. The last time the Eagles made a flying visit to the Premier League was in 2004/2005.
For Jedinak it’s been a season of high drama. Returning from horrific facial injuries (inflicted by Huddersfield striker Alan Lee's elbow in January) to be named the club’s Player of the Year, the former Central Coast Mariners star is etching himself into Selhurst Park history.
au.fourfourtwo.com asked the 28-year-old midfielder dubbed Jedi if the force was with Palace ahead of the big clash.
You’re just one game way from promotion to the English Premier League. How does that feel?
When you say it like that it’s quite surreal to be honest. But we’ve worked very hard at our football club this season. We’ve had little goals and targets throughout the whole season. We’ve ticked them off slowly and now we’ve got one more to go.
As a youngster you used to get up early to watch the FA Cup final at Wembley. It must be fantastic to know you’ll be walking out there.
Absolutely. You always remember watching those games and seeing what sort of arena it was, how big it was and just the atmosphere. It’s going to be really great soaking all that up on Monday.
It’s a long way from Bluetongue Stadium.
Yeah – even going back further to Edensor Park when I was kicking around in the State League with my club Sydney United. It’s a very long way in a relatively short period of time. But I’m always one to look forward. I don’t like to look back on too many things even though I had a lot of good times and met a lot of great people during that time I think, from a professional point of view, it’s always good to look ahead.
How do you prepare mentally for such a big game?
That’s a good question. I don’t find it any more difficult than another game to be honest. I know what’s at stake, everyone does, but you can’t let that get to you. You need to do things as normal as possible. Obviously you’ve got a little bit more to do away from the pitch in terms of media commitments and things like that but I’m experienced to know that goes with this sort of game. You’ve just got to enjoy the moment. I think that’s a big part of it and I think if you do then you’ll be relaxed and even better prepared for the game.
You hailed the character of your squad after the 2-0 Brighton win which sent you into the final. Was character a big part of the team’s success?
It’s been a big factor of our whole season; the character and determination and the attitude of the boys, they never give up. We’ve been a couple of goals down in games and I remember at the start of the season, and throughout the season as well, we’ve been able to turn that around and come back. Going through those moments prepares you for things like this and the crunch games. It just makes you proud to be able to lead this group and be a part of this team.
What are you expecting from Monday’s match?
I think it’s going to be very even. I think you’ve only got to look at the way the teams performed in their last games. They had a last minute dramatic win (double penalty save and 97th minute goal) and we left it relatively late to seal the deal (69’ and 88’). But look I think it will come down to who can stay the most calm and composed on the day and follow their game plan. I’m hoping that’s going to be us.
And the Palace fans?
They’re going to be there in numbers. The atmosphere should be electric.
Have you had time to reflect on picking up the Player of the Season gong?
Yeah it was massive to be honest especially when you think about what we’ve achieved this year and some of the individual performances shown by a lot of the lads. It’s something I’m very proud of.
Manager Ian Holloway says he’s never met anyone like you and assistant boss Keith Millen says you’re the best holding midfielder in the league. That’s some big wraps.
It’s always very flattering hearing it from people you work with every day, but I go about my business as usual. I certainly don’t put any added pressure on myself. You’ve got to stay grounded and continue to do what you do for the team. Luckily I’ve been able to do that quite often this year and probably as consistently as I’ve ever done.
There was talk earlier in the year that you might be going to Stoke and that you’d agreed terms. Will you be with Palace next season?
To be honest I haven’t been thinking about anything other than Monday. I haven’t even thought that far ahead. I’ve got another year left at Palace and I’m very happy at the moment.
Has there been interest from Premier League clubs?
If there is I don’t know anything about it. Like I said the focus is on Monday and that’s where the future lies.
Finally, Tony Popovic was coaching at Palace when you arrived. Are you surprised at how well he’s done with the Western Sydney Wanderers in their maiden season?
Maybe with what they eventually achieved but how they did things is not a surprise to me at all. I had the chance to catch up with Tony not so long ago and had a great chat with him and just sort of reflected on the season. It was great to see him and he’s got a very bright future in football as a manager.
Crystal Palace v Watford kicks off at midnight tonight, broadcast live in Australia on Setanta.