JOHANNESBURG - Orlando Pirates’ awful 2016/17 season was slowly making its way into the archives when that painful process was halted on Tuesday. Hang on, the Buccaneers were told, explain yourselves.
The players had been enjoying some tranquillity away from the prying eyes of the press since late last month, when they faced Golden Arrows in the Absa Premiership before escaping the negativity that comes with finishing outside the top eight for the first time in the Premier League era and, with Saturday’s Nedbank Cup final pending, without any silverware to show for their efforts, or lack thereof.
This week, however, in the build-up to taking on SuperSport United in what is a repeat of last year’s fixture at this stage of the tournament, captain Oupa Manyisa and his teammates had to endure and relive their disappointment.
“We know Saturday is a must win,” said the soft-spoken skipper about the match at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
“I think we are under pressure to appease the fans because how we finished the season was very disappointing. We know what went wrong, and what is important is for us to rectify those mistakes in the final.”
Although a new season naturally brings with it much hope and great expectation, especially for a club like Pirates, the general feeling is that the Buccaneers will begin the 2017/18 campaign seriously on the back foot should they not beat SuperSport, who thrashed them 3-1 in Polokwane a little over a year ago in the previous edition of the Nedbank Cup final.
That there is no participation in the MTN8 in the early weeks of the upcoming season already eliminates one trophy from the four that are always available in the domestic league. It already feels like a kick in the teeth for Manyisa.
“It’s not a nice feeling,” he said. That’s an understatement.
Marc Van Heerden, the leftback who arrived from Chippa United in January when things had already gone pear-shaped, probably articulated the need to put behind them a disaster of a campaign better.
It seemed fitting, given that the Buccaneers were thrashed 6-0 by Mamelodi Sundowns when he made his debut in February.
“I think we all want some dignity back,” said Van Heerden. “When you sign for such a big club you get a lot of feelings of joy and fulfilment and all that.
"But when you walk on the streets and supporters see you and say negative things, it’s hard to juggle those emotions as well.
“I think the captain has already said it that we don’t need motivation for the cup final because we are well aware we have to win it. We went away to have our minds and bodies re-energised and that was important. Now it is all about rectifying those mistakes.”
SuperSport, meanwhile, have been playing non-stop in the CAF Confederation Cup while their counterparts were taking stock.
Are they on the front foot?
“Not at all,” argued Van Heerden. “Obviously, not playing top quality opposition during that time takes something away from us, but your match fitness can’t be questioned.
"We have played two friendly matches and every single player got to play 90 minutes. I think on the day it will depend who is hungrier. I hope that’s us.”