Collective goal: Shannon Cole (centre) and the Wanderers have ignored personal success for the combined good, which has delivered a maiden finals appearance. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Though Shannon Cole couldn't be happier at reclaiming his starting spot for Western Sydney Wanderers at the right time of the season, he takes no joy in the circumstances that led to his recall.
Cole will play at left-back in Friday night's semi-final against Brisbane Roar at Parramatta Stadium, a position he's seldom played in this season due to Adam D'Apuzzo making the role his own.
However, with D'Apuzzo almost certainly out with a foot injury for the rest of the season, Cole will slot into left-back, a role he filled with aplomb during the 3-0 win over Newcastle that secured the Premiers' Plate.
''Every time there's a game, you want to be on the field, and every player will say the same. But the vibe at the club is not about individuals, it's about supporting whoever is out on the pitch,'' Cole said.
''We want to win for each other and we're fortunate to have such a close-knit bunch of boys. If someone is injured and they miss out, everyone is devastated for them. But at the same time, we want to ensure the job still gets done. This year we've achieved so much as a squad of 24 or 25, not just a starting 11. If it's my turn this week and I get to play, I'll think of it as opportunity to give something for the team.''
While the Wanderers are basking in a 12-game unbeaten streak - which would have been all wins had it not been for a 1-1 draw in the Sydney derby, a game where Cole scored a superb free kick - the team is pleased to have been given the week off.
''The coaching staff haven't given us long off, but there has been a window to get ourselves rejuvenated and relaxed. A couple of boys were carrying a few injuries, so it's all been timed very well now,'' Cole said. ''The organisation of our schedule is so detailed and intense that the focus on the next match hasn't wavered one bit. It's been two weeks of preparation and improvement.''
It's not unfair to say that Cole hasn't played as much he expected season. He's started in just nine matches, his equal-fewest number since entering the A-League in 2008. While he's come off the bench in a further 11 matches, five of those stints have been 12 minutes or less. However, he's prepared to bury that disappointment if it means he can be part of something greater.
''We've had a collective goal since we were formed that personal ambition needed to be ignored this season if we were to achieve anything,'' he said. ''Everything has been geared towards what we could achieve as a team. We all made that sacrifice and it's played such an important role in us getting where we are. We trusted the coaches to lead us there, which they have, so now it's up to us keep doing what we're told.''
While Iacopo La Rocca is out suspended and D'Apuzzo is injured, coach Tony Popovic is unlikely to make a decisions on Aaron Mooy (medial ligament), Shinji Ono (groin) and Jerome Polenz (quadriceps strain) until the morning of the Wanderers' first ever finals match.
The sold-out match will almost certainly see a season-high crowd at Parramatta, a scene Cole can't wait to experience for the last time this season.
''Everyone knows how amazing our fans are and how much they give us a lift. You can't help but want to perform with the energy they bring,'' he said. ''Game day at Parramatta isn't just a big day for the players. It's just as big for the fans as well because it's their chance to perform in the stands. It makes for a great feeling.''
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