Brayden Maynard breathed in. Held it. Counted. Breathed out.
He did it over and over again, calming himself and regathering his focus. He had just played on and kicked the ball straight into the diving arms of Andrew Gaff. The Eagles goaled and were still a chance to win.
Brayden Maynard enjoys Collingwood’s elimination final win.Credit:Getty Images
"Gaff read it before I did. He knew I was a left-footer and I would see the free man and try to get it onto my boot and it was just a really good smother. He smothered it before I realised he was even there," Maynard said of the moment late in last weekend's elimination final between Collingwood and West Coast.
"I did worry it was going to cost us the game. It cost us a goal straight away. But I did my breathing and calmed down."
Maynard does a bit of that breathing. The exercise, that is. If he stuffs something up, if he gets riled and needs to calm himself down, get back in the moment and not lose focus, he goes through his routine. Slow your breathing, count to 10. Focus.
He did it when he uncharacteristically fluffed two kick-ins against Sydney recently and cost goals.
"We have a massive focus on just moving on to the next moment. You are always going to make mistakes, we are all human, it's about what you do next. You move on," he said.
"Mine is taking a few deep breaths and focusing for the next 30 seconds and counting.
"I practise it at training, if I stuff up, do my technique and get my focus back. Sometimes I stuff up a few kicks at training and I just do my technique."
Liam Ryan and Maynard had an engrossing battle at Optus Stadium on Saturday night.Credit:Getty Images
He sucked in a breath and held it when he was nose to nose with Liam Ryan in a scuffle in that elimination final. He didn't use his breathing technique when Ryan cannoned through him with a perfectly timed legal bump down his middle. He was just trying to catch a breath at that point, not hold onto it and count.
"He hits very well. He has lined me up a couple of times, he got me in the  grand final. I love people who go hard and then it's OK after," he said.
Maynard and Ryan are an engaging pair. They have a love-hate relationship – love each other off the field, hate each other on it. It makes for a misunderstanding by the public, or those on social media, for whom life is less complicated and want blood for their man after a game.
Ryan is about the most watchable player in the competition. Maynard has also become an elite player and was unlucky not to be All-Australian this year. He was disappointed about that.
"The boys that made it are very deserving players, it's great for them they are great players but I was pretty disappointed because I was not picked when I thought I should have been," Maynard said.
"I am happy I was in the 40-man squad for the first time so I am not worried about it. I know I have had a good year and that's all we are worried about at the club."
He has class with his left foot and his line-breaking run and is a difficult one-on-one player because he is good overhead. But then there is playing on Ryan, against whom being good overhead requires you to fly. Against Ryan, being good at ground level requires you to dance. And you have to be able to suck it up, take a deep breath, when he goads you in a game.
Maynard likes that because it's schoolyard fun. He says he didn't notice when Ryan held out the ball to him last week. He might have been the only person who didn't see Ryan's cheeky gesture to rub Maynard's nose in the fact he'd just beaten him.
"I didn't really see it. I didn't take much notice when it happened. I was looking at him and his face and didn't take my eyes off him to see him showboat the ball. But it's all fun," Maynard said.
"I have a lot of respect for him and he has a lot of respect for me. As soon as the siren went I went straight over to him and put my arm around him and said great game and great battle. We both played pretty well, I think.
"It was a good duel. Some people had a lot to say about it on social media afterwards but they don't know what they are talking about.
"I have a lot of respect for Liam and he has a lot for me. I think he is a great player, I love watching him play and I love how he plays, he goes hard. We leave nothing out there we battle each other and go to war with each other for two hours but then it's all good afterwards. That's how it should be. I have great respect for him."
This week it could be Gary Ablett who is his opponent. Collingwood could make it Ablett's last game.
"We have had some good battles. He is probably the best player of all time I reckon, so to play on him is great. I respect him so much but when you cross that white line it is on and you don't think about that, you think of him as another player, and I can beat this bloke."
His attitude to Ablett is the same as his attitude to Geelong – they're good, but we can beat anyone.
"We know we can match it with any side. Beating West Coast in Perth, we match up well with Geelong, we had a very god game against them. We know we can match it with all of them and our best is good enough to beat anyone."
Just take a deep breath. Hold it. Count. Focus, and play on.
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