Brothers will go for glory after their near win in Hurlingham and successful UK season.
by Andres Ugarte Larraín
Ellerstina will face several challenges in the Argentine Open final on Saturday. This season the team has introduced a new lineup, thanks to the arrival of Polito Pieres, and has established changes in formation, the most notable being Facundo Pieres’ move to Back. Ellerstina has grown throughout the season and shown moments of great talent. But they face La Dolfina – a team they have not defeated since the 2012 final at Palermo. They have had moments of excellence and been close to cracking the Cañuelas foursome in Hurlingham. In a PoloLine Exclusive, brothers Gonzalo and Facundo Pieres, title holders in the US and champions in the UK, talk about the final.
How do you feel, the week before your ninth final in Palermo?
Facundo: In my case, I started thinking about the final on Sunday when we won the semifinal; I started sleeping less, it’s harder to eat – a bit of everything. But it’s an amazing week and we have to enjoy it; we are privileged to be in this situation, so we have to enjoy it. We’ve been preparing the horses and training so as to be prepared physically as well. I love it, it’s amazing – we spend the whole year waiting for this moment.
Gonzalo: I feel similarly to Facu. Perhaps I got more nervous the first time I had to play, but then, as the years go by and I’ve played more finals, I’ve learnt more and more. Most of all, I’ve learnt that we have to enjoy this week, have fun, and try to have the horses on point. The mental side of things is very important. It’s about learning to manage that and trying to be in the best shape possible for those two and a half hours on Saturday.
Gonzalo, from your point of view as an original member of Ellerstina, how do you feel when you look at the score board and see the name of four Pieres’?
G: I think it is great, but not just because I started before. I saw it for the first time when we played on the number one ground – I didn’t really notice it on the number two ground. I noticed when we were four Pieres’ vs four Heguy’s. I think that it’s a really nice thing for our family, for the organisation, and I can’t even tell you what it’ll be like if we win…
Do you talk about the final a lot with your family?
F: During the week before the final everyone keeps pretty quiet. If we started talking about the final all day and night, then I think we would get too nervous. You have to try and manage the time and the moments well. Now everyone lives in their own house, so we don’t spend that much time together as a family. Our father doesn’t really talk much about the final, the games, or how to play. We might get together on Friday and talk specifically about what we have to do, but not much else. As a team we do get together and talk, watch videos, but just between us. It’s not easy talking to everyone and listening to what everyone has to say. We have to follow the plan we devised at the beginning of the season between us four and Mariano, and try to take that to the end.
How important is it that you played and won together in England this year?
F: It’s obviously great to come back to Argentina with confidence after having won two important tournaments in England. That all gives you more confidence and experience; winning or losing tournaments gives you experience. Then we came here, won the Jockey Open – we couldn’t win Tortugas and Hurlingham, but we are OK. And we obviously enjoy being able to play together, that’s why we thought about putting Gonzalito at three and myself at Back – so that we could be together. We are the one’s who have played together the most; he covers me when I attack and I cover him when he attacks.
What will be the key to the game?
G: I think the key will be the concentration and the intensity of the game. I think that if we can play the way we have been playing, maintaining our concentration and controlling the rhythm of the game, we will feel comfortable on the field, and that will be very important.
Do you think you’re having your best moment of the season?
G: I think we are, and I think that this is a great moment for each of us individually. We have grown throughout the season and we have been gaining confidence. I think that mentally we are in our best place so far.
F: I think we are doing well. As of the second game in Hurlingham we began to play a certain way – after the first game which was a bit weak – and from then on the team changed completely. We’ve had good and bad moments, but always with our system, and it’s crucial to play with our system. At times we reached the level we wanted to and there have been times when we did it to perfection. But there have also been times when it was harder to achieve, like the game on the number two ground at Palermo. The game the other day got a bit dirty. I think that in the games where we are winning well, when we think about looking after the horses and the like, the team loses focus slightly. But now we’ve reached the final and we have to take on La Dolfina, and we can’t think about the horses or lowering the intensity of the game for a second. I think we played well at times during the semifinal, but badly at others. But I think that’s good; we reach the final knowing that we have a lot of things to improve.
Facundo, did you alter what horses you play and in what chukker when you started playing at Back?
F: I took some horses off my list because they were not the easiest. Playing at Back, it is very important to have horses you feel comfortable on when striking the ball, hitting in, hitting backhanders. And I had some horses that were not that comfortable and I had to change the list. But generally most of my horses haven’t changed, so it hasn’t affected me that much.
Gonzalo, how do you think Polito has got on in his first year in the team?
G: I think Polito has done great. I think he has also grown throughout the season. He’s been amazing during Palermo and he has a lot of confidence. I think Saturday can be the best day for us all. But what I like most about the team has been our humility and selflessness. I think that from the moment we put the team together, we’ve all been open to playing in any position. That Facu has gone from number one to Back, being, in my opinion, the best forward in the world, shows the compromises we’ve made. That’s why I think that we are mentally prepared to win. From the moment we put the team together we’ve been open to changes. It doesn’t matter what type of players we are, we all want to win.
Are you exited about making up for last year’s final, which was one of the worst finals to watch?
G: We always want it to be a good final. When a match is nice to watch it means that it was played well. It’s difficult to see who played well or badly when the game is closed. Finals are nice to play and to watch. We want the final to be nice for us, for our game, and that it be open. I think that if we can do that then the public will be happy as well.
Facundo, how will your day be on Saturday?
F: We began preparing last Sunday after we beat Las Monjitas, from that moment I started thinking about the game and imagining how to play it, the horses and how to organise them. You spend all day preparing. On the day I try to stay as calm as possible. Obviously, it’s very nerve-wracking, and you just have to wait until the game beings. You have to try and control the nerves and find the way of staying focused until the game starts and then throughout the game. There are eight chukkers and we know that all four of us have to be focused throughout those eight chukkers. After that, I don’t know. I wake up naturally, which will probably be quite early because I’m finding it hard to sleep these days – so just imagine what Friday night will be like.