By Morgan Jarvis
Earlier on the same day that the All Blacks and Wallabies were to play out a thrilling Bledisloe Cup match under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium, there was history being made just a few hundred metres away.
Dunedin Technical was hosting Glenfield Rovers in the Women’s Knockout Cup (can we please get a better name?) at the charming Caledonian Ground, and in doing so became the first side from New Zealand’s southernmost Federation to play in the semi-final stage of the competition.
After Technical upset Christchurch’s Coastal Spirit in the quarter final at the same ground earlier this month, amid all of the excitement was the expectation that they better get saving their pennies for the obligatory trip to Auckland. That’s the way these draws tend to work, right?
Instead, Dunedinites were rather shocked to find out that the mighty Glenfield Rovers would have to make the long trip south! It ended up being quite the journey for them as well, given the impact of the Bledisloe Cup on our city’s limited accommodation and flights.
There is always massive trepidation when our region’s better teams get the chance to go up against the country’s best. Caversham, the dominant force in recent years in the men’s game, have always acquitted themselves well on the Chatham Cup stage – but the women’s game is a different beast.
Dunedin Technical have certainly proven themselves locally – they’ve won the last five Southern Premier Leagues, and are on a 21 match winning streak in that competition. The depth of the league is unfortunately limited at the moment, with just six teams and only two or three that could ever come close to extending the Tech side. It’s felt that there is a huge gulf to the Mainland league, let alone the northern leagues. Until this year, Tech had struggled to overcome their Mainland rivals at the quarter final stage of the Cup.
So coming up against a team boasting the likes of Ferns stars Liz Milne, Stephanie Skilton, Anna Leat, and Kate Loye was always going to be a scary prospect. Speaking to Technical captain Coral Seath the evening before the game, it was clear there were a few nerves amongst all of the excitement. “A few of us know some of the Glenfield girls but when they’re all such big names, you kind of have this perception of them, so it will be interesting to see how they play and how we show up against them”. She was doing her best to hide the nerves.
The entire local footballing community was also intrigued, and it was fantastic to see a solid crowd pack into the Caledonian main stand. Technical club-mates went to great lengths to show their support – with banners and club shirts lining the edge of the ground. Definitely not a sight I recall seeing previously in Dunedin football!
The game began predictably, with the visitors dominating much of the possession and controlling the tempo, while Technical sat fairly deep and waited for opportunities to counter.
Tech goalkeeper Jade Middleditch was always having to be on alert, but most of the Rovers shots were fairly tame efforts from range. For the first 45 minutes, they struggled to break down a determined Technical defence.
The hosts would have definitely been the happier side with the goalless score line at the break, and were even confident enough to play a higher defensive line to begin the second half, which perhaps surprised Glenfield as the stalemate continued into the second stanza.
The visitors started to push harder and harder on attack though, and thought they had finally broken the deadlock early in the second half. Some brilliant build-up play put pressure on the home team’s defence, and the ball fell to Kate Loye who brilliantly controlled the ball before sending a left foot volley into the net. The celebrations were cut short though – the linesman had made a fantastic call, correctly catching Georgia Brown in an offside position with the pressure that had led to the half-clearance.
Glenfield didn’t let that get to them though and didn’t have to wait too much longer to finally open the scoring. Some good build-up play from Dayna Stevens saw the ball ping-ponged around the Tech box before Skilton, who had earlier spurned a couple of good chances, made no mistake in hammering it past a helpless Middleditch. Glenfield were delighted, the sense of relief obvious.
Rovers could have been excused for taking a more defensive approach after scoring, but instead they did the complete opposite, roaring into wave after wave of frantic attack – they were going for the Tech jugular.
Junior Fern Brown was at the heart of many of their chances, including a tasty low cross that Stevens couldn’t quite latch onto just a few feet from goal.
The Ferns reps were starting to show their class, and in the 68th minute, Skilton played a delightful square pass to Brown, who cleverly beat a couple of Tech defenders before placing it home to double the lead.
At this point, whispers in the grandstand were that the floodgates had opened, and it could end up an unfair mauling. Glenfield certainly continued to attack with that intent.
To Tech’s almighty credit though, they continued to remain stoic in defence, and always tried to craft opportunities for winger Mikayla Gray and striker Emily Morison.
Perhaps their best chance came late on, when a typically dazzling dribble from Gray could have opened up a shot at goal, but she cose to feed substitute Kaya Jones. Just when she would have had a clear one on one with Leat, the pass was instead agonisingly inches away from finding her.
Unfortunately for the locals, Leat was rarely troubled and Tech couldn’t breach the Rovers goal. When the final whistle sounded with a 2-0 scoreline, Glenfield looked almost as relieved as they were pleased, but fully deserved to have booked their spot in another Cup final.
The scenes after the final whistle were heartwarming, as both teams embraced, with equal amounts of tears and laughter. Tech was given a standing ovation by the crowd. Seath gave an emotional thanks to everyone for the support her team had received. It was clear that the local girls had given every ounce of effort on the pitch against their more illustrious rivals, and they could hold their heaps up high.
It was brilliant to have Glenfield display their brand of football down here, and I’m sure that a number of the young footballers in attendance would have been wowed by the visitors. It will hopefully further encourage many of the promising brigade of talented girls that are playing in record numbers across our region.
Although the women’s game down here is still largely in its infancy, there’s a real sense of excitement at the steady improvement. Technical has developed over 10 years from local also-rans into a side that can challenge the best in the country. There’s talk of more regular matches against Mainland’s best sides. And no doubt a number of the tech side will represent Southern United in the National Women’s League this season. I’m certainly predicting that the Southern side will manage an upset or two in this year’s league!
[Morgan Jarvis is a football fan & writer based in Dunedin. He is Southern United’s & Football South’s Media Manager and has been a regular contributor to the Otago Daily Times newspaper and other local football publications. You can find him on twitter via @zealmanNZ]
Categories: NZ Women's KO Cup
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.