Doncaster Rovers: Grant McCann on why he felt so much pressure to secure sixth spot and why he is much more relaxed heading into the play-offs
Grant McCann did not sleep the night before Doncaster Rovers faced Coventry City but he is resting a lot easier now.
Victory over the Sky Blues saw Rovers finally secure sixth spot in League One and book their place in a play-off campaign they will enter with nothing to lose.
Admitting he toiled through sleeplessness last Friday night showed a few understandable cracks in McCann’s consistently calm, composed and positive approach to the task at hand.
With the job done, and a semi-final against Charlton Athletic to come, he has cut a much more relaxed figure the he has in recent weeks.
He is now more than willing to talk openly about the pressure he felt to grasp the sixth place Rovers had not slipped below since January 12.
And with it comes the remarkably honest confession as to why he was feeling the heat.
“I think it was probably because it was Peterborough that were the team chasing us,” he told the Free Press.
“I think if it’d been any other team then I wouldn’t have felt like that probably.”
The tussle between Rovers and Peterborough United was a script writers dream.
In McCann and Darren Ferguson, each club had a manager that previously belonged to the other.
McCann was unceremoniously dumped by Peterborough, ironically due to a lack of confidence he could take the club into the play-offs. Ferguson walked away from Rovers last summer with the inference he felt he could not push for promotion hard enough with the budget on offer.
The battle for sixth came down to those two on the final day and a question of who would hold their nerve.
Such narrative was not lost on McCann, as much as he attempted to brush it off.
“I was still very confident we’d get into sixth place but nature takes over sometimes,” he said. “I think it was everything that surrounded it really. It’s only natural.
“I tried not to let the players see any sort of weakness from me – not that there was one. I only had real drive.
“I’ll always be positive but there are times when you get a seed of doubt in your stomach where you think ‘what happens if it doesn’t happen.’
“They’ve been up there with us for most of the season, slipping in and out of it so it was a real ding dong affair between both of us.
“And there’s things like the fact I still live in the area and when you’re out walking the dog and people are shouting ‘Peterborough’s going to get there before you.’ All in jest really.
“It’s just the way things have panned out with Darren going back to Peterborough, me being here – there was more riding on it than just a top six finish really.
“I think if it’d have been anyone else we’d have got there three or four weeks ago to be honest.
“I’m pleased for the group. We can just park that now. We’ve done the first bit and the second bit now is to try to get past Charlton.”
If he felt pressure before Saturday evening, he certainly does not now.
Securing sixth spot ensured the pressure came off Rovers instantly and McCann believes it will fall straight on the shoulders of Charlton, whom they host in Sunday’s first leg of the play-off semi-final.
The Rovers boss has had a determination to make this week no different to any other throughout the season. No special training regimen, no treats or rewards – only a focus on being ready for Sunday’s early kick-off at the Keepmoat.
“You just need to remain consistent, not doing something the players aren’t used to or changing anything for the sake of it,” he said.
“We’ll approach each training session and the games like we have done all season. It’ll be a normal week.
“They’ll see their clips, things they’ve done well, things they can improve and we’ll take the positives out of it.
“Then we’ll be on the training ground working towards Sunday.
“We’ve continued to play the way we have for the whole season and it won’t change now.
“For the next couple of games, over these two weeks, we’ll be exactly the same.
“We’ll continue to do what we’ve done all season – stay calm, stay focused and be ready for it.”
Declaring a lifting of the pressure is by no means a raising of the white flag from Rovers. The situation in which they now find themselves is back as the unfancied underdogs.
Starting the season as short as 5/1 for relegation is something McCann has rarely allowed to slip from public consciousness. He harnessed the very idea of Rovers being written off and used it as a major motivation for success this season.
It was why he was quick after reaching the play-offs to warn the doubters that Rovers had already proved them wrong.
After beating Coventry, he said: “You know what, everyone will write us off in the play-offs.
“We’ll probably be the team people look at and say Doncaster have got no chance.
It is clear McCann does not mind the concept of Rovers being the underdogs. With opponents Charlton having won ten of their last 13 matches to come up on the rails and claim third place, accepting the London side as favourites is not too difficult.
But McCann is more than confident his side will again silence the doubters.
"I think the pressure will be more on Charlton than us because they're expected to be there,” he said.
“They we probably expected to challenge for the top two.
“The run they're on, people will fancy them big time.
"I'm proud of the players because we've been really relentless every day driving them, myself and Cliff.
“Probably there are some days when they want to tell us to shut up but we keep driving them.
“Hopefully it's going to help them get what they richly deserve - for listening to us every day.
“We're really pleased for them as a group. The staff are delighted for them and we just hope we can go those extra couple of stages.”
From pressure and sleepless nights, to calm and relaxed, McCann is ready for the task at hand.
Home life has played an important role in that with a chance to leave the mentally taxing work behind 70-odd miles up the A1 – or at least once he steps out of the car.
"I'll just be as I have been most of the season,” he said.
“When I come in it's work and when I'm at home it's family time. I think that's one big thing I've learned, how to manage my time better.
“It's been good for me this year and I can switch on and off. When I come into work we're working.
“Right now, I feel good. I feel refreshed a wee bit to be honest.”
Whether there is a mask to slip at all before Sunday morning, only McCann truly knows.
But for now, he is sleeping easy.