The big occasion for Exeter Chiefs

Tom OÕFlaherty of Exeter Chiefs is tackled by Manu Tuilagi of Sale Sharks during the Gallagher Premi

Tom OÕFlaherty of Exeter Chiefs is tackled by Manu Tuilagi of Sale Sharks during the Gallagher Premiership semi final match between Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks at Sandy Park on 19 June 2021. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK - Credit: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

We all have a team we think about in sport when it comes to perennial winners. That team for me is the All Blacks, a team that have done it all on the international stage, finding all types of ways to win. 
The Chiefs are fast becoming that ‘big game’ team at domestic level, having won six consecutive semi-finals, and hoping to win their third final on Saturday afternoon.   
Luckily, I have had the opportunity to experience a handful of these so-called big games. Big occasions were a constant mental battle, in my own head questioning whether I was good enough to be ‘here’, or was I going to be the one to let the side down.  
Trying to force positive thoughts into your head and drown out the negative is something I found easier as I became more experienced, balancing my emotions in an effective way. 
One such day I found my emotions and the occasion a little too much was the 2016 Premiership final. I don’t think I was alone in this, the 80,000 crowd, the bus to the ground with what seemed to be 40,00 Chiefs fans tomahawk chopping and banging on the side of the bus, and Twickenham stadium itself. The whole team seemed a little in awe of the day. 
It took us till the second half to realise we did belong, too late against an experienced and quality outfit. A huge lesson learned that I believe has helped solidify the winning mentality and belief of the Chiefs. 
Some players never seemed to be phased by these big games, in fact they seem to thrive in them or even time their form to hit said games at the peak of their game. 
Individual player preparation before games is an aspect of team sport that truly fascinates me, how two individuals’ behaviour can differ in so many ways yet seemingly produce a performance to match. 
Some chilled to the core, laughing and joking and some so focused on getting every part of their own meticulous preparation completed and stressing right up to kick off.  
As you could imagine someone like Jonny Hill, one of the Chiefs’ newly-named Lions is as laid back as it comes, something that resembles my type of approach. Yet Jonny is someone who always hits the pitch and opposition hard.  
I have said it before, it takes all sorts to make up a sporting team, and the Chiefs are no different. A very human environment, something that the team understands and uses the emotions and feelings of wanting to achieve for one another.

Exeter Chiefs fans during the Gallagher Premiership semi final match between Exeter Chiefs and Sale

Exeter Chiefs fans during the Gallagher Premiership semi final match between Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks at Sandy Park on 19 June 2021. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK - Credit: Phil Mingo/PPAUK


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